Work on cell 'ferrying' system and disease triggers wins Nobel prize

Reuters

By Niklas Pollard

STOCKHOLM, Oct 7 (Reuters) - Two Americans and a German wonthe 2013 Nobel medicine prize on Monday for their work on howhormones and enzymes are transported within and outside cells,giving insight into diseases such as diabetes and Alzheimer's.

James Rothman, Randy Schekman and Germany's Thomas Suedhofmapped out one of the body's critical networks that uses tinybubbles known as vesicles to ferry chemicals such as insulinwithin cells. The system is so critical and sensitive thaterrors in the machinery can lead to death.

"Without this wonderfully precise organisation, the cellwould lapse into chaos," the Nobel Assembly at Sweden'sKarolinska Institute said in a statement when awarding the prizeof 8 million crowns ($1.2 million).

"Through their discoveries, Rothman, Schekman and Suedhofhave revealed the exquisitely precise control system for thetransport and delivery of cellular cargo."

For example, their research sheds light on how insulin,which controls blood sugar levels, is manufactured and releasedinto the blood at the right place at the right time, the Nobelcommittee said in the statement.

Rothman is professor at Yale University, Schekman is aprofessor at the University of California at Berkeley, whileSuedhof is a professor at Stanford University.

"HOW CELLS WORK"

"My first reaction was, "Oh, my god!" said Schekman, who waswoken with the good news at in the early hours of his morning."That was also my second reaction," he added, according to aBerkeley University statement.

Medicine is the first of the Nobel prizes awarded eachyear. Prizes for achievements in science, literature and peacewere first awarded in 1901 in accordance with the will ofdynamite inventor and businessman Alfred Nobel.

"Today's Nobel Prize is very timely and well deserved,"Professor Patrik Rorsman of Oxford University said. "It is sucha fundamental process they have studied and explained.

"Their discoveries could perhaps have clinical implicationsin psychiatric diseases, but my guess is that they will be moreuseful for the understanding of how cells work."

The committee said the work could help in understandingimmuno-deficiency, as well as brain disorders such as autism.

Jan-Inge Henter, professor of clinical child oncology at theKarolinska Institute, said at a news conference:

"For quite some time, it's been known that this is importantin the signaling between neurons, that is nerve cells. We havebillions of nerve cells and they have to communicate with eachother and they do so with this vesicle transport system.

"Now, we've realized that this is also important in forinstance diabetes, because we know that insulin is released bythese vesicles and we know that the immune system is regulatedalso by this vesicle transport mechanism."

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