Ja­panese sci­en­tist wins No­bel for cell ‘self-eat­ing’ stud­ies

China Daily (USA) - - FRONT PAGE -

Ja­panese sci­en­tist Yoshi­nori Oh­sumi was awarded this year’s No­bel Prize in medicine on Mon­day for dis­cov­er­ies about how cells break down and re­cy­cle parts of them­selves in an in­ter­nal garbage dis­posal process.

The Karolin­ska In­sti­tute hon­ored Oh­sumi for “bril­liant ex­per­i­ments” in the 1990s on au­tophagy, a phe­nom­e­non that means “self-eat­ing” and de­scribes how cells gob­ble up dam­aged con­tent and pro­vide build­ing blocks for re­newal.

Dis­rupted au­tophagy has been linked to sev­eral dis­eases, in­clud­ing Parkin­son’s, di­a­betes and can­cer, the in­sti­tute said.

“In­tense re­search is now on­go­ing to de­velop drugs that can tar­get au­tophagy in var­i­ous dis­eases,” the in­sti­tute said in its ci­ta­tion.

Oh­sumi, 71, from Fukuoka, Ja­pan, is a pro­fes­sor at the Tokyo In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy. In 2012, he won the Ky­oto Prize, Ja­pan’s high­est pri­vate award for global achieve­ment.

“As a sci­en­tist, I’m ex­tremely hon­ored,” Oh­sumi said, dur­ing a live tele­phone in­ter­view with Ja­panese broad­caster NHK.

Speak­ing about his work, he said the “hu­man body is al­ways re­peat­ing the auto de­com­po­si­tion process, or can­ni­bal­ism, and there is a fine bal­ance be­tween for­ma­tion and de­com­po­si­tion. That’s what life is about”.

No­bel com­mit­tee sec­re­tary Thomas Perl­mann said Oh­sumi seemed sur­prised when he was in­formed he had won the No­bel Prize.

“The first thing he said was ‘ahhh’. He was very, very pleased,” Perl­mann said.

No­bel judges of­ten re­ward dis­cov­er­ies made decades ago to en­sure they have stood the test of time.

Though au­tophagy has been known for more than 50 years, its fun­da­men­tal sig­nif­i­cance was only rec­og­nized af­ter Oh­sumi’s “par­a­digm-shift­ing re­search” into yeast in the 1990s, the in­sti­tute said.

“Thanks to Oh­sumi and oth­ers fol­low­ing in his foot­steps, we now know that au­tophagy con­trols im­por­tant phys­i­o­log­i­cal func­tions where cel­lu­lar com­po­nents need to be de­graded and re­cy­cled,” it said.

It was the 107th award in the medicine 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 other trop­i­cal dis­eases.

The an­nounce­ments con­tinue with physics on Tues­day, chem­istry on Wed­nes­day and the No­bel Peace Prize on Fri­day. The eco­nom­ics and lit­er­a­ture awards will be an­nounced next week.

Each prize is worth 8 mil­lion Swedish kro­nor ($930,000). The awards will be handed out at prize cer­e­monies in Stock­holm and Oslo on Dec 10, the an­niver­sary of the death of prize founder Al­fred No­bel in 1896.


Yoshi­nori Oh­sumi, a pro­fes­sor at the Tokyo In­stitue of Tech­nol­ogy, pic­tured in Tokyo last year.

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