Earlier today, Brian Kobilka MED ’81 was one of two American scientists awarded the 2012 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. He will share the prize with his former mentor, Robert Lefkowitz, a professor of biochemistry at Duke University.

Kobilka and Lefkowitz have made significant progress in unraveling the workings of G-protein coupled receptors (GPCRs), a large family of trans-membrane proteins that play a crucial role in communication within the body, transferring chemical messages from the outside into the cell’s interior. GPCR proteins are involved in nearly every physiological process, from the beating of the heart to the operation of the brain. Understanding these proteins may be the key to developing better drugs, since nearly half of all medications act upon these receptors.

In the 1980s, Kobilka and Lefkowitz were able to isolate the receptor gene for one G-protein-coupled family member, and in 2011, Kobilka and his team obtained the first three-dimensional image of another specific kind of GPCR bound to its signaling molecule.

Kobilka currently serves as a professor and chair of molecular and cellular physiology at the Stanford University School of Medicine.

Correction: Oct. 10

An earlier version of this article’s headline misstated Kobilka’s affiliation with Yale.