Japan's Yoshinori Ohsumi awarded 2016 Nobel medicine prize
MANILA, Philippines (5th UPDATE) – Japanese scientist Yoshinori Ohsumi is awarded the 2016 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine on Monday, October 3, for his work on autophagy, or the process of cells recycling its own content.
"This year's Nobel Laureate discovered and elucidated mechanisms underlying autophagy, a fundamental process for degrading and recycling cellular components," the Nobel Assembly at the Karolinska Institute, which oversees the medicine prize, said in a press release.
Cell biologist Ohsumi, 71, was born in Fukuoka, Japan, and is currently a professor at the Tokyo Institute of Technology. He received his PhD from the University of Tokyo in 1974.
"I was surprised. I was in my lab," Ohsumi was quoted as saying, upon learning of the award.
"This is the highest honor for a researcher," Ohsumi told Japan's public broadcaster NHK.
"My motto is to do what others don't want to do. I thought (cellular breakdown) was very interesting. This is where it all begins.
"It didn't draw much attention in the past, but we're now in a time when there a bigger focus on it," added Ohsumi.
The Nobel Prize said that Ohsumi is the 23rd laureate from Japan, and the country's 6th for medicine.
The Nobel committee cited Ohsumi's work on the topic, starting way back in the early 1990s, to have "led to a a new paradigm in our understanding of how the cell recycles its content."
How autophagy works
The phenomenon of cells recycling its own content was first observed in the 1960s, and in the succeeding years scientists tried to learn more about its underlying mechanisms.
"Autophagy has been known for over 50 years but its fundamental importance in physiology and medicine was only recognized after Yoshinori Ohsumi's paradigm-shifting research in the 1990's," the citation read.
Ohsumi's research "opened the path to understanding the fundamental importance of autophagy in many physiological processes, such as in the adaptation to starvation or response to infection."
In his breakthrough experiments, he used baker's yeast to identify genes necessary for the process, and from there studied that the process of autophagy in yeast is similar to how it occurs in human cells, the press release 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 helped scientists understand how our cells respond to stress, infections, embryo development, and even aging, the committee said.
In addition, his studies have helped fellow researchers understand links to diseases, such as Parkinson's, type 2 diabetes, even genetic disease and cancer.
The prize comes with 8 million Swedish kronor (around $936,000 or 834,000 euros).
Last year, Irish-born William Campbell of the US, Satoshi Omura of Japan and China's Tu Youyou won the prestigious award for their discoveries of treatments against parasites. – With a report from Agence France-Presse / Rappler.com