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Nobel Prize

Japanese scientist Yoshinori Ohsumi wins 2016 Nobel medicine prize

The 71-year-old professor’s work on how cells recycle their content has opened up the possibility of new treatments for illnesses such as cancer, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases

PUBLISHED : Monday, 03 October, 2016, 5:45pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 04 October, 2016, 10:32am

Yoshinori Ohsumi won the 2016 Nobel prize for medicine or physiology for his discovery of mechanisms for degrading and recycling cellular components, the award-giving body said on Monday.

The Karolinska Institute honoured Ohsumi for “brilliant experiments” in the 1990s on autophagy, the machinery with which cells recycle their content.

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

[Ohsumi] discoveries opened the path to understanding ... many physiological processes, such as in the adaptation to starvation or response to infection
Nobel Assembly

Though the concept has been known for more than 50 years, its “fundamental importance in physiology and medicine was only recognised after Yoshinori Ohsumi’s paradigm-shifting research in the 1990s”, Karolinska said in its citation.

“Ohsumi’s discoveries led to a new paradigm in our understanding of how the cell recycles its content,” the Nobel Assembly at Sweden’s Karolinska Institute said in a statement in awarding the prize of eight million Swedish crowns (US$933,000).

“His discoveries opened the path to understanding ... many physiological processes, such as in the adaptation to starvation or response to infection,” the statement added.

Ohsumi was born in 1945 in Fukuoka, Japan. He is currently a professor at the Tokyo Institute of Technology.

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

Speaking in Japanese 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.”

It was the 107th award in the medicine category since the first Nobel Prizes were handed out in 1905.

The prize for Physiology or Medicine is the first of the Nobel prizes awarded each year. Prizes for achievements in science, literature and peace were first awarded in 1901 in accordance with the will of dynamite inventor and businessman Alfred Nobel.

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.

Additional reporting by Associated Press