Defending the Chemistry Nobel for “biology” – again.
I’m near-certain that this is the first Nobel Prize in Chemistry given to two MDs. (10:31 am EDT: I was wrong, as per commenter Jonny below. Peter Agre, MD, and Roderick MacKinnon, MD, received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2003 for their work on aquaporins and other ion channels.)
Robert Lefkowitz, MD, of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Duke University Medical Center, and Brian Kobilka, MD, of Stanford University School of Medicine, will share the Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2012. The award recognizes a lifetime of work, certainly for Lefkowitz, in elucidating the action of the central chemical signal transducers of the human body.
This is a chemistry prize, albeit a biological chemistry prize.
The prize is being given for discovering how the body’s most important chemicals communicate their own chemical signals from outside the cell to inside. Without G-protein-coupled receptors, or GPCRs, our hearts would not beat, our lungs would not expand and contract, and our brains would be unable to regulate much of everything that runs in our bodies.
Moreover, the ubiquity of GPCRs have over history breathed tremendous life and stimulated innovation in chemistry to synthesize tools to modulate these receptors and thereby relieve human suffering. Chemists should revel in this prize – without G-protein coupled receptors, many chemists would not have been employed for the last few decades.
But I do agree that a case could be made for this prize to be given in Physiology or Medicine, particularly since GPCRs are central to physiology, “from plants to man.”
Feel free to vent your spleen in the comments below.
But do note that Derek Lowe, medicinal chemist and grand master of the chemblogosphere, has already decreed, “[M]y fellow chemists, cheer the hell up already.”
Disclosure: I hold an Adjunct Associate Professor appointment in the Duke University School of Medicine, Department of Medicine.
10:22 am EDT: Here’s an excellent 2011 C&EN article by Carmen Drahl that explains the relevance of GPCRs to chemistry. Cites Brian Kobilka’s work.
Carmen also wrote the C&EN Online article that appeared just a bit ago.
11:30 am EDT: Went up to Dr. Lefkowitz’s office at Duke where he was holed up doing telephone interviews before he heads down to the lab’s champagne reception.
See my next post for discussion of the 1:30 pm EDT news conference and background on Lefkowitz’s dependence on chemical tools to launch this research.
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