Yoshinori Ohsumi of Japan yesterday won the Nobel Prize in Medicine for his pioneering work on autophagy — a process whereby cells “eat themselves” — which, when disrupted, can cause Parkinson’s disease and diabetes.
A fundamental process in cell physiology, autophagy is essential for the orderly recycling of damaged cell parts and understanding it better has major implications for health and disease, including cancer.
Ohsumi’s discoveries “have led to a new paradigm in the understanding of how the cell recycles its contents,” the jury said.
“Mutations in autophagy genes can cause disease, and the autophagic process is involved in several conditions, including cancer and neurological disease,” the jury added.
Researchers first observed during the 1960s that the cell could destroy its own contents by wrapping them up in membranes and transporting them to a recycling compartment called the lysosome — a discovery that earned Belgian scientist Christian de Duve a Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1974.
It was de Duve who coined the term “autophagy,” which comes from Greek, meaning “self-eating.”
In what the jury described as a “series of brilliant experiments in the early 1990s,” Ohsumi used baker’s yeast to identify genes essential for autophagy.
He then went on to explain the underlying mechanisms for autophagy in yeast and showed that similar sophisticated machinery is used in human cells.
Ohsumi’s findings opened the path to understanding the importance of autophagy in many physiological processes, such as how the body adapts to starvation or responds to infection.
When autophagy breaks down, links have been established to Parkinson’s disease, type 2 diabetes and other disorders that appear in elderly people.
Intense research is now under way to develop drugs that target autophagy in various diseases.
Ohsumi, 71, received a doctoral degree from the University of Tokyo in 1974. He is a professor at the Tokyo Institute of Technology.
He is the 23rd Japanese to win a Nobel prize, and the sixth Japanese medicine laureate.
The prize comes with 8 million Swedish kronor (US$936,000).
“This is the highest honor for a researcher,” Ohsumi told Japan’s public broadcaster NHK.
“My motto is to do what others do not want to do. I thought [cellular breakdown] was very interesting. This is where it all begins. It did not draw much attention in the past, but we are now in a time when there is a bigger focus on it,” Ohsumi added.
The medicine prize is awarded by the Nobel Assembly at the Karolinska Institute, which has seen its reputation tarnished over a recent scandal involving Italian surgeon Paolo Macchiarini.
In 2011, while working as a visiting professor at Karolinska, Macchiarini soared to fame for inserting the first synthetic trachea, or windpipe, using patients’ stem cells.
His work was initially hailed as a game-changer for transplant medicine. However, two patients died and a third was left severely ill.
Allegations ensued that the risky procedure had been carried out on at least one individual who had not, at the time, been critically ill.
There was a net reduction last year in the number of Taipei residents and this year is expected to set a 23-year high for population decline in the city, Ministry of the Interior statistics released yesterday showed. From January to last month, 18,861 more people moved out of Taipei than moved into the capital, an increase of 7,000 from the same period last year, the data showed. That is a 7.2 percent decrease in the city’s population since the start of the year, the biggest drop in both percentage and total number among all municipalities and counties nationwide, the data showed. The data
COUNCILS CLASH: The Mainland Affairs Council said a new office in Hong Kong is to assist people with issues related to investment, study and employment in Taiwan The Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) yesterday denied an accusation by the Hong Kong-Taiwan Economic and Cultural Co-operation and Promotion Council that its Taiwanese counterpart in the territory was “interfering with Hong Kong’s internal affairs.” The Hong Kong council leveled the accusation after Taipei’s Taiwan-Hong Kong Economic and Cultural Co-operation Council this month announced it would establish a Taiwan-Hong Kong Services and Exchanges Office to facilitate humanitarian aid for Hong Kongers. The new office is scheduled to begin operations on Wednesday. The MAC yesterday asked the Hong Kong council to “not misinterpret” the government’s intentions. The two Taiwan-Hong Kong councils were established in 2010 to
IRRESPONSIBLE ATTITUDES? Some experts say the NHI system does not do enough to educate the public, or pay doctors to talk to patients, about healthy lifestyles While the life expectancy of Taiwanese newborns in 2018 reached 80.69 years, the number of years people spent in poor health hit a record high at 8.41 years, Ministry of Health and Welfare statistics showed on Saturday. Healthy life expectancy is calculated by a person’s life expectancy minus the time they spend in ill health, such as the loss of mobility, disabilities and chronic disease, based on medical records and calculations about the years they live with disabilities. The number of years that Taiwanese spend in poor health is increasing slowly, but steadily, rising by 0.46 years, or five-and-a-half months, between 2012
FORCED LABOR: Customs officials have seized a 11.8 tonne shipment of products made from human hair on suspicion they were produced by people facing human rights abuses Federal authorities in New York City on Wednesday seized a shipment of weaves and other beauty accessories suspected to be made out of human hair taken from people locked inside a Chinese internment camp. US Customs and Border Protection (CPB) officials said that 11.8 tonnes of hair products worth an estimated US$800,000 were in the shipment. “The production of these goods constitutes a very serious human rights violation, and the detention order is intended to send a clear and direct message to all entities seeking to do business with the United States that illicit and inhumane practices will not be tolerated in