2016 Nobel Prize In Medicine Awarded to Yoshinori Ohsumi

Professor Ohsumi has been recognized for his role in the discovery of autophagy, a cellular self-renewal process.

AsianScientist (Oct. 4, 2016) – Professor Yoshinori Ohsumi of the Tokyo Institute of Technology has been awarded the 2016 Nobel Prize in Medicine for his research on autophagy, the process used by cells to break down damaged organelles and recycle unused proteins.

The Nobel is the third prize Ohsumi has won this year. Earlier in the year, Ohsumi’s work was recognized with the Paul Janssen Award for Biomedical Research, the 45th Rosenstiel Award and the 15th Wiley Prize in Biomedical Sciences. Ohsumi is also highly feted in his home country, having been honored with the 2015 International Prize for Biology given out by the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science as well as the 2012 Kyoto Prize.

Working in yeast, Ohsumi was the first to identify genes controlling autophagy in the 1990s. Since then, it has become clear that autophagy is essential for normal cell homeostasis, and defects in autophagy have been linked to diseases ranging from Alzheimer’s disease to cancer. Autophagy is known to be triggered by intermittent fasting and is thought to be one reason fasting appears to stave off aging. Although there are currently no drugs that target autophagy available on the market, both autophagy activators and inhibitors are being developed.

“I’d like to stress again the importance of basic research,” said Ohsumi as reported by the Wall Street Journal. “When I started researching, I never thought this was research that would lead to a Nobel Prize. To be honest, that was never something that was motivating me.”

Ohsumi beat other Asian contenders predicted by Thomson Reuters to be Citation Laureates likely to win the 2016 Nobel Prize, including Professor Tasuku Honjo of Kyoto University and Professor Dennis Lo of the Chinese University of Hong Kong. His win marks the second year in a row that a Japanese scientist has won the Nobel Prize in Medicine and the first time since 2010 that the Prize has gone to a sole winner.

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Copyright: Asian Scientist Magazine; Photo: Tokyo Institute of Technology.
Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of AsianScientist or its staff.

Rebecca did her PhD at the National University of Singapore where she studied how macrophages integrate multiple signals from the toll-like receptor system. As the managing editor at Asian Scientist Magazine, she enjoys helping great science also become popular science, and believes that scientific perspectives have much to contribute to society at large.

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