On 3 October, 2016, Prof. Thomas Perlmann, the Secretary of the Nobel Committee for Physiology or Medicine announced that the 2016 Nobel Prize would be awarded to Yoshinori Ohsumi for “his discoveries of mechanisms for autophagy”. Dr. Ohsumi, a Japanese cell biologist at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, pioneered the study of the process by which cells recycle needed components by compartmentalizing unneeded cellular components into a structure called the “autophagosome”. Working in yeast, he found that, upon exposue to stress and/or starvation, the autophagosome forms, fuses with a lysosome that provides the necessary enzymes to degrade those components, and then releases the components to be re-used by the cell.
Healthy cells are highly dependent upon the process of autophagy. Mutations found in genes for the proteins involved have been shown to cause disease, including cancer, immunological disease and neurodegenerative disease. Dr. Ohsumi’s studies have been integral to our understanding of how this occurs. However, he is not content. In the online published interview with Adam Smith, Chief Scientific Officer of Nobel media, when asked about his decision to focus on a relatively obscure topic (at the time he began), Dr. Ohsumi commented:
“Still we have so many questions. Even now we have more questions than when I started.”
We look forward to his future discoveries!