Three medical researchers who unlocked the mysteries of how cells communicate with their environment through receptors, or signaling pathways, have won the $500,000 Albany Medical Center Prize in Medicine and Biomedical Research.  From VOA's New York Bureau, correspondent Barbara Schoetzau reports their discoveries paved the way for a new generation of drugs to treat everything from asthma and diabetes to cancer and mental disorders.

The three medical investigators made groundbreaking discoveries about how receptors send signals from hormones, drugs and other stimuli to trigger action within the cell.

Robert Lefkowitz of Duke University Medical School in North Carolina, Solomon Snyder of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Maryland, and Ronald Evans of The Salk Institute for Biological Studies in California will share the largest prize for medical research given in the United States. The world's only larger monetary award in the field is the Nobel Prize. 

According to the award jury, their discoveries unleashed a revolution within the pharmaceutical industry, allowing the development of new drugs that are able to imitate the effects of naturally occurring substances. James Barba, the president of the Albany Medical Center, heads the selection committee.

"As I understand the science, what each one of them worked on were separate parts of the human body, was the notion that cells will react differently to human hormones that they come into contact with. Before their research, scientists had no way of knowing why it was, for example, that opiates affect the human body the way they do," he said.  "They could observe the reaction, but they didn't know what was precisely causing it."

The discovery eventually made it possible for scientists to isolate all of the human receptors and design drugs, such a beta-blockers, that help to prevent heart attacks and other diseases.

Barba says the research done by the winners is laying the groundwork for a new generation of scientists and a new understanding of the complexity of human physiology. 

"The work of these men and those who will take their work and advance it will discover just what the receptor is for a disease like multiple sclerosis, or what the genome is, and then what the receptors are that will be willing to admit drugs that will deal with that disease," he added.

The Albany Medical Center prize began in 2000 with a $50 million endowment from the late philanthropist Morris Silverman to encourage innovative biomedical research.