Medicine Nobel for cell recycling work
Oct.3, Tokyo: The 2016 Nobel Prize for physiology or medicine goes to Yoshinori Ohsumi of Japan for discoveries about autophagy - how the body breaks down and recycles cellular components.
Dr Ohsumi's work is important because it helps explain what goes wrong in a range of diseases, from cancer to Parkinson's. He located the genes that regulate this "self eating" process.
Last year's prize was shared by three scientists who developed treatments for malaria and other tropical diseases.
The body destroying its own cells may not sound like a good thing. But autophagy is a natural defence that our bodies use to survive. It allows the body to cope with starvation and fight off invading bacteria and viruses, for example. And it clears away old junk to make way for new cells.
Failure of autophagy is linked with many diseases of old age, including dementia.
Research is now ongoing to develop drugs that can target autophagy in various diseases, including cancer.
The concept of autophagy has been known for over 50 years, but it wasn't until Dr Ohsumi began studying and experimenting with baker's yeast in the 80s and 90s that the breakthrough in understanding was made.
Dr Ohsumi is reported to be surprised about receiving his Nobel Prize, responding with a simple "aaaahh".
Prof David Rubinsztein, an expert in autophagy at the University of Cambridge, said he was delighted that Dr Ohsumi's vital work had been recognised and rewarded.
"His pioneering work in yeast led to the discovery of the key genes and fundamental biochemical processes that are required for autophagy. As autophagy is well conserved from yeast to man, his laboratory's discoveries have also provided the critical tools to many labs to enable the appreciation of the important roles of autophagy in diverse physiological and disease processes. These include infectious diseases, cancers, and various neurodegenerative diseases such as Huntington's disease and forms of Parkinson's disease. Indeed, autophagy manipulation may provide a key strategy for treating some of these conditions."
The Oslo Times International News Network