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Japanese cell biologist Yoshinori Ohsumi wins Nobel Prize in medicine

PBR Staff Writer Published 04 October 2016

Japanese cell biologist Yoshinori Ohsumi has been awarded the 2016 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine, for his discoveries of mechanisms for autophagy.

Ohsumi used baker's yeast to find how cells recycle their content, a process known as autophagy, a Greek term for self-eating.

The official website of the Nobel Prize said that Ohsumi’s discoveries opened the path to understanding the fundamental importance of autophagy in several physiological processes, like in the adaptation to starvation or response to infection.

Mutations in autophagy genes can lead to genetic  disease, and the autophagic process is involved in various conditions such as cancer and neurological disease.

Ohsumi, who is currently working as a professor at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, had been active in several research areas. However after starting his own lab in 1988, his efforts were focused on protein degradation in the vacuole, an organelle that corresponds to the lysosome in human cells.

Disrupted autophagy has been linked to Parkinson's disease, type 2 diabetes and other disorders that appear in the elderly.

Disturbances in the autophagic machinery have also been linked to cancer.

The Nobel Committee said Ohsumi’s brilliant experiments had opened the way to intense research intended at developing drugs that can target autophagy in several diseases.

Image: Professor Yoshinori Ohsumi was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for 2016. Photo: courtesy of Tokyo Institute of Technology.