Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Introduction to Nobel Prizes 2013 – I : Medicine and Physiology

This year, Nobel Prize for Medicine was given to three eminent scientists for their work on traffic.
No, not the traffic that makes our life difficult, but the kind of traffic that we owe our life to. The traffic inside our cells.
Our cells are like complicated factories. They are forever producing and discarding stuff.
Needless to say, they need a very good transport system to carry the goods around. The vehicles that do this job are called Vesicles. So the Nobel Prize announcement says ‘for discovery of machinery regulating vesicle traffic’.
The prize was shared by three scientists.
Randy Schekman is a 64 year old scientist from California. He conducts his research at the University of California at Berkeley, in the lab that bears his name.
62 year old James Rothman conducts his work on the other side of America, in Yale University. He has worked in various institutions including GE Healthcare as Chief Science Advisor.
Thomas Sudhof is the youngest of the three at 57 years. He was born in Germany and studied his medicine in Germany as well as the US. He is a professor and researcher at Stanford.
All the three scientists have a Stanford connection. Schekman did his PhD at Stanford, Rothman started his career there and Sudhof is of course currently doing his work at the university.
Rothman discovered how this transport mechanism works, while Schekman described how it goes wrong. Sudhof found how the same process happen inside neurons, the cells inside our brains.
Of course, these scientists have made these discoveries long ago (in case of Schekman, in 1970’s) and they are now part of all standard cell biology textbooks. But Nobel Prizes do take time to come. For example, the German scientist Ernst Ruska, who invented Electron Microscope in 1932 was given the Nobel in 1986, more than half a century later!

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