American scientists have been awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their discoveries about the human sense of smell.

The 2018 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine went to Elizabeth Blackburn, Carol Greider and Jack Szostak for their discoveries about receptors in the brain that transmit smells.

In a joint statement on their website, the Nobel Committee said: “These receptors, and a related field called neuroendocrinology, provided scientists with an unprecedented view of how neurons work in the brain and some fundamental knowledge of how olfactory pathways affect feelings of smell.”

Szostak, a professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School and the Massachusetts General Hospital said that the finding could change the way we view biology.

“Our research actually adds the capability to get inside the neural signaling pathway at the roots of how this sense is generated and could also allow us to begin to understand how drugs alter that response,” he said in a statement.

Scientists have long believed that a system of noses, called olfactory bulbs, in the brain control smell and translate the message from the sensory organs to the brain.

However, Szostak said that all four people found in the discovery process had found a way to communicate via the smell receptor known as TRPV1 with the human sense of smell.

“At the end of the day, what we seem to be able to show is that TRPV1 receptors are on neurons, not on nerve endings; they are more like co-processors and work together to control odors,” he said.

The discovery of the receptors and their uses, he said, means we will be able to “intrigue drugs” into the brain to treat diseases that target the sense of smell.

Greider, a professor of physiology and biophysics at the Medical College of Pennsylvania, said in a statement that “This is a wonderful opportunity to share this profound discovery with our colleagues, our patients, and many others around the world who look to us for exciting new insights into basic neuroscience.”

The Nobel Prize consists of 8 million Swedish kronor ($1.1 million) divided amongst the recipients and several million more if they sell the Nobel Prizes in whatever form.

Last year, two scientists won the Nobel Prize in chemistry for their work on how molecules are made.

Suzanne Barlyn contributed to this report.

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