Nobel Prize season 2016 has arrived and the one to take the first spot is the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. The prestigious prize was awarded to Yoshinori Ohsumi for his discoveries of mechanisms for autophagy.
Autophagy is the mechanism by which cells recycles unnecessary or defective cellular components. In this way, the cell remains much more energy efficient then when it would constantly resynthesize its components from new nutrients. Autophagy is also a stress-coping mechanism, induced when cells are subjected to starvation.
Back in the 90s, very little was known on the process of autophagy or self-eating, a term coined by Belgian Nobel Prize winner Christian De Duve as early as 1963. Ohsumi studied the process in yeast cells and identified the first range of genes responsible for its regulation by chemical mutation. Further investigation into the autophagy process in plant and mammalian cells was also carried out in his lab. The research done by Ohsumi uncovered a totally new research field, which would be intensely studied in the following years. For his research, Ohsumi also prophetically received the Dr. Paul Janssen Award last August.
Since then, many diseases have been associated with dysregulated autophagy. Neurodegenerative diseases and such as Parkinsons can occur when too little autophagy causes an unwanted accumulation of proteins. Also the ageing process is linked with the autophagy machinery slowly but surely giving up the ghost. On the other hand, too much autophagy can lead to cancer and contributes to the survival of tumor cells.
A well-deserved Nobel Prize win for Professor Yoshinori Ohsumi!