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Nobel Prize Awarded to Three Men For Cell Transport System

Update Date: Oct 07, 2013 09:34 AM EDT
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The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded to two Americans and one German for their collective work on the body's cell transport system. The three men, James E. Rothman from Yale University, Randy W. Schekman from the University of California, Berkeley and Dr. Thomas C. Südhof from Stanford University, discovered how cells transport hormones, enzymes and other substances. The announcement was made at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden.

The work from all three researchers helped discover what they dubbed the cargo system in cells. This system explained how cells transfer important molecules at the right time to the right place. Dr. Schekman's work involved identifying a set of genes that helped facilitate the movement of vesicles. Vesicles are small packages of molecules that move around in cells. Dr. Rothman's contribution to this discovery dealt with protein machinery. He uncovered how protein machinery leads to the fusion of vesicles with their targets, which allows them to be transferred. Lastly, Dr. Südhof discovered how signaling informs vesicles to release these packages of molecules.

"Imagine hundreds of thousands of people who are traveling 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 according to the Washington Post. "There are similar problems in the cell."

The researchers' work in the 1970s, 80s and 90s help researchers today understand how the body functions and avoids chaos. By knowing how the cargo system works, researchers have an easier time studying diseases related to the immune system. Research into treatments and therapies could be possibilities in the future.  In fact, this system has already helped doctors identify and diagnose a severe form of epilepsy as well as other immune deficiency diseases in children.

"This is not an overnight thing. Most of it has been accomplished and developed over many years, if not decades," Rothman, 62, explained. Rothman was born in Haverhill, MA. He received his Ph.D. from Harvard Medical and was a postdoctoral fellow Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Rothman later went on to Stanford University where he began his research on vesicles. In 2008, he became a member of Yale University's faculty where he is now a professor.

Schekman, 64, had said upon receiving the call about the prize, "I wasn't thinking too straight. I didn't have anything elegant to say. All I could say was 'Oh my God,' and that was that." Schekman was born in St. Paul, MN. He studied at the University of California, Los Angeles and at Stanford University where he received his Ph.D. He is now a professor at UC Berkeley and an investigator of Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

"I got the call while I was driving and like a good citizen I pulled over and picked up the phone," Südhof, 57, 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." Südhof was born in Göttingen, Germany. He studied at the Georg-August-Universität in Göttingen where he received a medical degree and a Doctorate in neurochemistry. He then moved to the states for research where he was an investigator of Howard Hughes Medical Institute in 1991. In 2009, he became a professor at Stanford. Südhof is also a U.S. citizen.

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