ShareThis Page
U.S./World

Duo shares Nobel chemistry honors

| Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2012, 8:28 p.m.
Duke University biochemist Mardee Delahunty, left, greets Nobel Prize winner Robert Lefkowitz at the parking deck near Lefkowitz' office at Duke in Durham, N.C., on Wednesday, Oct. 10.

AP Photo
Duke University biochemist Mardee Delahunty, left, greets Nobel Prize winner Robert Lefkowitz at the parking deck near Lefkowitz' office at Duke in Durham, N.C., on Wednesday, Oct. 10. AP Photo
Dr. Brian Kobilka of Stanford University shares the Nobel award with Lefkowitz, his former student.

Getty Images
Getty Images
Dr. Brian Kobilka of Stanford University shares the Nobel award with Lefkowitz, his former student. Getty Images

CHICAGO — For some scientists, winning a Nobel Prize marks the end of a long and successful career.

But the work, in a sense, is just beginning for newly minted Nobel laureates in chemistry Brian Kobilka, 57, of Stanford University, and his mentor, Dr. Robert Lefkowitz, 69, of Duke University Medical Center.

“There is still a lot to do,” Dr. Kobilka said in his home in Palo Alto, Calif., where he learned of his prize early Wednesday. “There is a lot to do.”

In research spanning four decades, the scientists working separately and together have helped characterize the exact structure of an important class of proteins known as G-protein-coupled receptors or GPCRs, which serve as a main conduit for chemicals to get past a cell's membrane and be taken up by a cell.

Roughly 1,000 human genes carry genetic codes for the receptors, which affect a variety of functions: from the beating of the heart to the workings of the brain and even how cells in the nose detect odors.

A subset of these receptors, some several hundred, respond to hormones and neurotransmitters in the body, and these have been targets for drug discovery, in many cases even before researchers knew these receptors existed.

About 40 percent of drugs use these receptors or doors to get inside of cells.

The problem is that drugs often act on more than one receptor, so they have side effects.

“We hope the more we know about the structure of these proteins, the more we'll be able to develop safer, more effective drugs,” Kobilka said.

Lefkowitz set out in the 1970s to prove these receptors existed and that they could be studied, cloned and manipulated to develop new drugs.

Kobilka, who worked in Lefkowitz's lab in the 1980s, extended that research by helping define the exact crystal structure of every atom of these receptors at a molecular level — something that had eluded researchers.

“Their findings have shone a light onto the staggeringly complex world of how hormones, neurotransmitters and drugs control cellular function and opened the door to the development of new therapeutics with potential to treat a vast array of diseases,” said Bernadette Byrne of Imperial College London.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.

click me