Let the Nobel Prize watch begin. Two areas of major medical discovery and two leading public health philanthropists were announced this morning as the winners of the prestigious Lasker Awards. The awards, currently in their 68th year, are typically looked to as a precursor for the Nobel Prize and are informally dubbed the “American Nobel.”

Eighty-three Lasker winners have gone on to win the Nobel Prize, including 31 in the last two decades, according to the Lasker Foundation.

Richard Scheller of Calif.-based Genentech and Thomas Südhof of Stanford University School of Medicine snagged the basic medical research award for their independent findings revealing how brains cells communicate to dictate activity. Their findings illuminating the molecular machinery and regulatory mechanisms that underlie the rapid release of neurotransmitters in the brain subsequently affected nearly every area of neuroscience research. The two scientists’ work was also honored with the Kavli Prize in neuroscience in 2010, a Norwegian award.

Three other researchers won for their clinical research contributions on the modern cochlear implant, a device that unlocks hearing capabilities for individuals with profound deafness. Graeme Clark, emeritus of University of Melbourne, Ingeborg Hochmair, of MED-EL, a medical device company in Innsbruck in Austria, and Blake Wilson of Duke University will share that award.

Meanwhile, Seattle-based Bill and Melinda Gates won the public service award for their contributions to transforming the way global health concerns are viewed and for addressing health needs of some of the world’s most vulnerable.

Each group of winners will share a $250,000 prize for their respective category. The awards will be presented on Friday, September 20th in New York City.