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Scientists share Nobel chemistry prize

Three scientists have won the Nobel Prize in chemistry for developing methods that can be used from potentially helping kill cancer cells to providing ultra-slim computer screens.

Professors Richard Heck, Ei-ichi Negishi and Akira Suzuki developed a way of better linking carbon atoms together to create a complex molecule upon which new drugs can be tested.

The American and two Japanese were honoured for the tool which has also been used to artificially produce cancer-killing substances.

It has allowed chemists to develop drugs to fight colon cancer, the herpes virus and HIV and was described as one of the “most sophisticated tools” in organic chemistry.

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, which awards the chemistry prize, said the method had “vastly improved” the ability of scientists to discover new chemicals.

Researchers used the tool to artificially produce discodermolide – a chemical which was found in a sea sponge and which scientists aim to use to fight cancer cells.

The method, referred to as 'palladium-catalysed cross couplings’, works by using metal palladium as a catalyst to make carbon atoms bond to each other quicker and easier than previous substances used.

It is being used to create new antibiotics that work on resistant bacteria and a number of commercially available drugs, including the anti-inflammatory Naproxen, while it is also used worldwide in the commercial production of molecules used to make electronics.

Professor David Phillips, President of the Royal Society of Chemistry, said the metal-based coupling reactions had led to “countless breakthroughs”.

“The Heck, Negishi and Suzuki reactions make possible the vital fluorescent marking that underpins DNA sequencing, and are essential tools for synthetic chemists creating complex new drugs and polymers,” he said.

Prof Heck, 79, is a professor emeritus at the University of Delaware. Prof Negishi, 75, is a chemistry professor at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, and 80-year-old Prof Suzuki is a professor at Hokkaido University in Sapporo, Japan.

They will share the $1.5m (€1m) prize.

The 2010 Nobel Prize announcements began on Monday with the medicine award going to 85-year-old British professor Robert Edwards for fertility research that led to the first test tube baby.

On Tuesday the Nobel Prize in physics, was awarded to Russian-born Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov