Yoshinori Ohsumi: 23rd Japanese to Win Nobel Prize in Medicine (Download PDF)


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Yoshinori Ohsumi becomes 23rd Japanese to win Nobel Prize and the sixth Japanese medicine Nobel laureate. He won the 2016 Nobel Prize for physiology or medicine for his innovative work on autophagy.

Image of Yoshinori Ohsumi

Image of Yoshinori Ohsumi

Image of Yoshinori Ohsumi

About Yoshinori Ohsumi

  • Japanese cell biologist specializing in autophagy
  • Completed his PhD from the University of Tokyo in 1974
  • Currently serving as a professor at Tokyo Institute of Technology’s Frontier Research Center
  • Honored with the Kyoto Prize for Basic Science in 2012

What is Autophagy?

  • A natural process in which cells “eat themselves”.
  • Deals with how the body breaks down and recycles cellular components- an important physiological aspect.
  • Promotes orderly recycling of damaged cell parts
  • Improved understanding has implications for health and disease like including cancer.
  • Belgian scientist Christian de Duve observed the phenomenon- won Nobel Medicine Prize in 1974. He named it as “autophagy” from the Greek meaning self-eating.

Yoshinori Ohsumi’s Research in Autophagy

  • Yoshinori Ohsumi discovered a new paradigm of how the cell recycles its content by using baker’s yeast to identify genes important for autophagy.
  • Clarified the mechanisms for autophagy in yeast- similar machinery is used in human cells.
  • Located genes that control this process and associated how errors in these gene coding can cause diseases.
  • Introduced a new path to comprehend importance of autophagy in many physiological processes- how body acclimates to famishment or responds to infection.
  • Associated autophagy with Parkinson’s disease, type 2 diabetes and other disorders that appear in the elderly.

About Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine

  • One of five Nobel Prizes established by Swedish chemist Alfred Nobel,
  • Founded in 1895
  • Given for significant discoveries in the area of understanding of life or the practice of medicine.
  • The Nobel Assembly at the Karolina Institute selects the winner and announces it along with the Nobel Prizes for other categories.
  • Includes 8 million Swedish kroner or 1.1 million dollars in prize money.

- Published/Last Modified on: October 5, 2016


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