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Nobel Prize Awarded for Research on “Self-Eating” Cells

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By Erin Kelly


Self-eating cells sounds like something straight out of a science fiction novel. But it just so happens to be the basis for the revolutionary research that claimed this year’s Nobel Prize in medicine.
Japanese biologist Yoshinori Ohsumi was named the recipient of the 2016 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine for his work regarding autophagy. Autophagy - which comes from the Greek words auto, meaning “self”, and phagein, meaning “to eat” - is an important part of the body’s function where cells break down and reuse their own content for the renewal of cellular components.
Dr. Ohsumi’s groundbreaking work started with experiments in the early 1990’s using baker’s yeast, which enabled him to identify the initial genes that cause autophagy. Following this discovery with yeast, Dr. Ohsumi was able to detail how the process works in humans. These findings have contributed to greater insight into the role that autophagy plays in various physiological processes, such as starvation and infection.
Disrupted autophagy has also been linked to a variety of diseases, including Parkinson’s and diabetes. And thanks to Dr. Ohsumi’s breakthrough experiments with baker’s yeast a couple decades back, more and more research continues to be conducted on autophagy and the role that it has on a disease’s progression.
Thinking you want to follow in Dr. Ohsumi’s footsteps with experiments that could advance knowledge about the health and function of the human body? Having a passion for research is your first step, the second is pursuing an education that includes biology, chemistry, physics and mathematics. This focus of study will allow you to explore your scientific interests and help put you on the path for a fulfilling career that could greatly impact the lives of others.
Source: Toronto Star; NobelPrize.org; Forbes