The Nobel Prize for medicine was awarded this Monday. The prestigious award went to Japanese scientist Yoshinori Ohsumi for his work in the field of cellular components. He received the award for discoveries related to the degrading and recycling of cellular components.
The Medicine Nobel Prize is a renowned award that is presented each year to one or several scientists. It honors and rewards the work in research in the field on medicine. This year’s prize went to research work that could contribute to the better understanding of a series of illnesses. Also, it could help other researchers with their work.
Yoshinori Ohsumi’s Groundbreaking Work
Yoshinori Ohsumi is a Japanese biologist that has spent a lot of time studying cells, the smallest units of life. He has found a key mechanism in the defense system of the human body. That mechanism involves the degradation and the recycling of parts of cells. The Japanese scientist has discovered the mechanism and also elucidated how it works. This mechanism is now called autophagy. The process plays a very important role in many illnesses. One of them is cancer. Also, other diseases are Alzheimer’s and type 2 diabetes. The mechanism could also help better understand birth defects caused by the Zika virus.
As part of the official announcement, the prize committee of the Nobel Prizes said that Ohsumi’s work involved a series of “brilliant experiments” that took place in the 1990’s. They involved baker’s yeast and their findings helped explain how cells adapt in response to stress. The experiments assessed a cell’s reaction to stresses like starvation or infection. Ohsumi studied thousands of mutated yeast cells. In his work, he identified 15 genes that are essential for autophagy. The Japanese scientist went further and wanted to see if he could find the same mechanism in human cells as well. It turns out that a virtually identical mechanism also exists in the cells of the human body.
Praise from the Nobel Prize Committee
The Nobel committee wrote that Yoshinori Ohsumi’s work “opened the path to understanding the fundamental importance of autophagy in many physiological processes, such as in the adaptation to starvation or response to infection”. The official statement by the committee also talks about how the discoveries could lead to a better understanding of several conditions. Mutations in the genes responsible for autophagy can cause disease, says the Nobel prize committee. Also, the process of autophagy is involved in certain conditions like cancer, type 2 diabetes and neurological disease.
Autophagy means “sel-eating” in Ancient Greek. It is a process by which the cell removes the damaged proteins and the damaged organelles of the cell. It all leads to cell renewal. When this mechanism fails, cell aging can accelerate and diseases associated with old age become more likely. On the other hand, if there is too much autophagy going on, this can lead to the growth of tumor cells and to the resistance to treatment in cancer patients.
Ohsumi is 71 years old and works at the Tokyo Institute of Technology as professor emeritus. Upon receiving the Nobel Prize, he said that it is the “greatest source of joy and pride” for a scientist.
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