Yoshinori Ohsumi wins Nobel Prize for research on autophagy

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Thursday, October 6, 2016

On Monday, in Stockholm, Japanese cell biologist Yoshinori Ohsumi of Tokyo Institute of Technology won this year's Nobel Prize in the field of physiology or medicine for his research on autophagy. Ohsumi is the 25th Nobel laureate from Japan.

File photo of Yoshinori Ohsumi, 2015.
Image: 大臣官房人事課.

71-year-old Yoshinori Ohsumi studied mechanisms of autophagy — a process in which cells eat parts of themselves and recycle the cell components.

This phenomenon was observed in the 1960s with the discovery of lysosomes, which contain enzymes to digest cell content. For that discovery, Belgian scientist Christian de Duve was subsequently honoured with the 1974 Nobel Prize in the same category. Ohsumi conducted a series of experiments with baker's yeast in the 1990s and identified fifteen genes needed for autophagy.

Ohsumi applied the same mechanism to understand the process in humans. Autophagy is an important phenomenon whose failure through gene mutation may be involved in type 2 diabetes, cancer, and neurological disorders such as Parkinson's disease.

The committee said Ohsumi's discoveries have helped to understand "the fundamental importance of autophagy in many physiological processes, such as in the adaptation to starvation or response to infection."

In remarks to Japanese broadcasting company NHK, Ohsumi said he was honoured to be recognised by the Nobel committee. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe congratulated Ohsumi and said "The results of [Mr. Osumi's] studies have brought hope to people in the world suffering from intractable diseases like cancer and Parkinson's disease, and the Japanese people can feel very proud" ((zh))Chinese language: ‍(大隅良典)先生的研究成果给世界上苦于癌症及帕金森病等顽症的人们带来了希望,作为日本人感到非常自豪。.

Ohsumi's research also earned him a 2015 Canada Gairdner International Award in March 2015. Ohsumi is to receive 8 million Kronor (¥95 million) in the Nobel awards ceremony scheduled on December 10.