The first of 2016’s Nobel Prize recipients has been decided: the award for medicine or physiology goes to Japanese biologists Yoshinori Ohsumi for his work in autophagy — the process by which cell components are recycled (from the Greek words for “self-eating”.)
Autophagy is the process by which cells break down their components to free building blocks for other uses. It plays a pivotal role in keeping our body healthy, and Professor Ohsumi’s work “led to a new paradigm in our understanding of how the cell recycles its content,” The Nobel Assembly at Stockholm’s Karolinska Institute said.
He analyzed thousands of strains of yeast and identified 15 genes that underpin this internal recycling process. There is a lot of interest in the biomedical field surrounding autophagy because any alterations to the process can promote diseases such as cancer, or can increase resistance to anti-cancer procedures.
The committee said that Professor Ohsumi’s work also linked faults in this process to Parkinson’s disease, type 2 diabetes, and a host of other disorders common in elderly patients.
“I was surprised. I was in my lab,” recalled professor Ohsumi of hearing about the decision.
The award is the 107th award in this category since the first Nobel Prizes were handed out in 1905. Last year’s prize was shared by three scientists who developed treatments for malaria and roundworm infections. The physics prize will be announced on Tuesday, chemistry on Wednesday and the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday. The economics and literature awards will the announced next week.