The 2016 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine goes to Yoshinori Ohsumi of Japan for discoveries about the secrets of how cells can remain healthy by recycling waste.
He located genes that regulate the cellular “self-eating” process known as autophagy. Dr Ohsumi’s work is important because it helps explain what goes wrong in a range of illnesses, from cancer to Parkinson’s disease. Errors in these genes cause disease.
The concept of autophagy has been known for over 50 years, but it was not until Dr Ohsumi began studying and experimenting with baker’s yeast in the 80s and 90s that the breakthrough in understanding was made.
Dr Ohsumi is reported to be surprised about receiving his Nobel Prize, but “extremely honoured”. Speaking with the Japanese broadcaster NHK, he said that the human body “is always repeating the auto-decomposition process, or cannibalism, and there is a fine balance between formation and decomposition. That’s what life is about.”
More than 270 scientists were nominated for the prize, which was awarded at Sweden’s Karolinska Institute. The award comes with eight million Swedish kronor (about £728,000 or $936,000 or 834,000 euros) for the winner.