The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION
Posted: 10/7/2013 4:43 AM | Comments: 0
Last Modified: 10/7/2013 3:34 PM
NEW YORK, N.Y. - Two Americans and a German-American won the Nobel Prize in medicine Monday for illuminating how tiny bubbles inside cells shuttle key substances around like a vast and highly efficient fleet of vans, delivering the right cargo to the right place at the right time.
Scientists believe the research could someday lead to new medicines for epilepsy, diabetes and other conditions.
The work has already helped doctors diagnose a severe form of epilepsy and immune deficiency diseases in children. It has also aided research into the brain and many neurological diseases, and opened the door for biotech companies to make yeast pump out large quantities of useful proteins like insulin.
The $1.2 million prize will be shared by James Rothman, 62, of Yale University, Randy Schekman, 64, of the University of California, Berkeley, and Dr. Thomas Sudhof, 57, of Stanford University.
They unlocked the mysteries of the cell's internal transport system, which relies on bubble-like structures called vesicles to deliver substances the cell needs. The fleet of vesicles is sort of the FedEx of the cellular world.
When a pancreas cell releases insulin or one brain cell sends out a chemical messenger to talk to a neighbouring one, for example, the vesicles have to deliver those substances to the right places on the cell surface. They also ferry cargo between different parts of a cell.
"Imagine hundreds of thousands of people who are travelling around hundreds of miles of streets; how are they going to find the right way? Where will the bus stop and open its doors so that people can get out?" Nobel committee secretary Goran Hansson said. "There are similar problems in the cell."
Jeremy Berg, former director of the National Institute of General Medical Sciences in Bethesda, Md., said the prize was long overdue and widely expected because the work was "so fundamental and has driven so much other research."
Berg, who now directs the Institute for Personalized Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh, said the work provided the intellectual framework that scientists use to study how brain cells communicate and how other cells release hormones.
So the work has indirectly affected research into virtually all neurological disease as well as other diseases, he said.
In the 1970s, Schekman discovered a set of genes that were required for vesicle transport. Rothman revealed in the 1980s and '90s how vesicles delivered their cargo to the right places. Also in the '90s, Sudhof identified the machinery that controls when vesicles release chemical messengers from one brain cell that let it communicate with another.
"This is not an overnight thing. Most of it has been accomplished and developed over many years, if not decades," Rothman said.
Rothman said he lost grant money for the work recognized by the Nobel committee, but he will now reapply, hoping the prize will make a difference in receiving funding.
Schekman said he was awakened at 1 a.m. at his home in California by the chairman of the prize committee, just as he was suffering from jetlag after returning from a trip to Germany the night before.
"I wasn't thinking too straight. I didn't have anything elegant to say," he told The Associated Press. "All I could say was 'Oh, my God,' and that was that."
He called the prize a wonderful acknowledgment of the work he and his students had done. "I called my lab manager and I told him to go buy a couple bottles of Champagne and expect to have a celebration with my lab," he said.
Sudhof, who was born in Germany but moved to the U.S. in 1983 and also has American citizenship, told the AP he received the call from the committee while driving in Spain, where he was due to give a talk.
"And like a good citizen I pulled over and picked up the phone," he said. "To be honest, I thought at first it was a joke. I have a lot of friends who might play these kinds of tricks."
"I was stunned and I was literally speechless," Sudhof later told reporters.
The medicine prize kicked off this year's Nobel announcements. The awards in physics, chemistry, literature, peace and economics will be announced this week and next. Each prize is worth 8 million Swedish kronor ($1.2 million).
Rothman and Schekman won the Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award for their research in 2002 — an award often seen as a precursor of a Nobel Prize. Sudhof won a Lasker last month.
Established by Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel, the Nobel Prizes have been handed out since 1901.
Last year's Nobel in medicine went to Britain's John Gurdon and Japan's Shinya Yamanaka for their contributions to stem cell science.
Karl Ritter reported from Stockholm. Associated Press writers Malin Rising in Stockholm, Frank Jordans in Berlin, Matt Surman in London, and Stephen Singer in Hartford, Conn. contributed to this report.
Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories? Please use the form below and let us know.
Having problems with the form?Contact Us Directly
City can't afford rival's promises: Wasylycia-Leis
U-Haul workers find deceased infants inside 'delinquent storage locker'
Jets lead 3-1 over Hurricanes after second period
Jets boss Maurice mad enough to start cussing
Drew Willy back at practice, cheering up Coach O'Shea
With radicalism in spotlight, new spy powers
Bowman says voting for him is only way to stop Judy W-L
Neighbours say man shot by police had changed
Ouellette says disaffected aboriginal and young people have helped increase his support
Drop by News Café on election night
Toys R Us pulls 'Breaking Bad' dolls
Steeves again slams rivals' rapid transit plans, saying they will need a tax hike
Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee dies at 93
Suspect in terror-linked attack arrested in July
Alcohol may be a factor in crash on Trans-Canada Highway near Oak Lake
Ticats sign running back Nic Grigsby
Dangerous pandering to public on Ebola
Don't break my stride, MPs tell police
Debate over ethics of deleting negative reviews
One of two officers acquitted of attempted murder staying with WPS
Be wary of using surplus, PBO tells Ottawa
Dog killed in Brandon house fire
Jets make roster changes for Hurricanes game to turn around recent nosedive
Where have all the mayors gone?
Unfazed by poll dip: Judy W-L
Ottawa launches drone safety blitz
Body found in river identified as man missing since August
St. Boniface selected as finalist in Great Places in Canada contest
From Kors to DVF, fashion mourns de la Renta
Sanders makes last-minute plea to voters as poll shows his support has all but vanished
Oscar Pistorius sentenced to 5 years in prison
KE kids returning to school Wednesday
Father-killer seeks freedom
Vision: n. ability to plan or form policy in a far-sighted way
EIC sells U.S. cell tower company, retains Canadian operations
Investigated cop suing police, fellow officer
HSC shows off special isolation rooms
Canadians' favourite chip Jalapeno Mac 'N Cheese
Door-to-door mail ends quietly
Warm again today, chance of showers Wednesday