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Originally published Tuesday, October 9, 2012 at 10:03 PM

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2 US scientists win Nobel chemistry prize

Americans Robert Lefkowitz and Brian Kobilka won the 2012 Nobel Prize in chemistry Wednesday for studies of protein receptors that let body cells sense and respond to outside signals. Such studies are key for developing better drugs.

Associated Press

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STOCKHOLM —

Americans Robert Lefkowitz and Brian Kobilka won the 2012 Nobel Prize in chemistry Wednesday for studies of protein receptors that let body cells sense and respond to outside signals. Such studies are key for developing better drugs.

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said the two researchers had made groundbreaking discoveries on an important family of receptors, known as G-protein-coupled receptors.

About half of all medications act on these receptors, so learning about them will help scientists to come up with better drugs.

Lefkowitz, 69, is an investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and professor at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, North Carolina.

Kobilka, 57, is a professor at Stanford University School of Medicine in California.

"I'm feeling very, very excited," Lefkowitz told a news conference in Stockholm by phone.

He said he was fast asleep when the Nobel committee called.

"I did not hear it ... I wear earplugs, so my wife gave me an elbow," he said. "And there it was. .... It was a total shock and surprise."

The academy said it was long a mystery how cells interact with their environment and adapt to new situations, such as when adrenalin increases blood pressure and makes the heart beat faster.

Scientists suspected that cell surfaces had some some type of receptor for hormones.

Using radioactivity, Lefkowitz managed to unveil receptors including the receptor for adrenalin, and started to understand how it works.

Kobilka's work helped researchers realize that there is a whole family of receptors that look alike - a family that is now called G-protein-coupled receptors.

The Nobel week started Monday with the medicine prize going to stem cell pioneers John Gurdon of Britain and Japan's Shinya Yamanaka. Frenchman Serge Haroche and American David Wineland won the physics prize Tuesday for work on quantum particles.

The Nobel Prizes were established in the will of 19th century Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite. Each award is worth 8 million kronor, or about $1.2 million. The awards are always handed out on Dec. 10, the anniversary of Nobel's death in 1896.

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