Two Americans won the Nobel Prize in medicine Monday for shedding light on how cells communicate to speed the spread of killer diseases like cholera and diabetes throughout the body.
Alfred G. Gilman and Martin Rodbell will split the $930,000 prize for determining how a certain group of proteins can help transmit and modulate signals in cells, much like a biological switchboard.
Their discoveries, products of two decades of work, have been paramount in helping scientists understand diseases that affect tens of millions of people around the world, said Professor Bertil Fredholm of the Karolinska Institute's Nobel Assembly.
Their research has not yet produced treatments, but the institute said that probably would happen.
The scientists found that once a cell has received chemical signals by means of surface proteins called receptors, G-proteins transmit and modify these signals within a cell to produce the cell's response.
Problems with G-proteins - too many, too few, or deformed in some way - can lead to disease. The name G-protein was chosen because it "binds" guanosine triphosphate, or GTP.
In cholera, toxin from cholera bacteria keeps G-proteins switched on like a stuck green light. That prevents salt and water from being absorbed from the intestines, which can lead to dehydration and death. The process is similar with bacteria that causes diarrhea. s
Disturbances in the G-proteins also can explain symptoms in hereditary metabolic problems, tumor diseases, alcoholism and even whooping cough.
The medicine prize was the first of this year's six Nobel awards …