'Cell transport research' gets Nobel Medicine nod

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'Cell transport research' gets Nobel Medicine nod

The Nobel Prize in Medicine was jointly awarded to two Americans and one German on Monday for their work in solving the mystery of how a cell organizes its transport system.


The winners, James E. Rothman, Randy W. Schekman, and Thomas C. Sudhof, were announced at the Karolinska Institute in northern Stockholm.

They were recognized for their individual efforts that led to the complete understanding of how molecules are transported within a cell - and even exported from a cell - and how they are taken exactly where they need to be through small packages called vesicles.

Knowing how a vesicle transports molecules could one day lead to discovering the preventions and the causes of neurological diseases, diabetes, and immunological diseases.

While perhaps initially not easy to understand, Göran Hansson, Secretary General of the Nobel Committee at Karolinska Institute, simplified the matter.

"It could be compared to the buses of Stockholm, the whole public transport system, moving hundreds of thousands of people all over the city, stopping at right places, letting passengers out and taking in new ones," he told The Local.

"This is a good metaphor to compare this system with vesicles transporting molecules between organelles in the cell, the membrane, and out of the cells."

The discoveries were based on initial fundamental finds by Schekman in the early eighties, which in turn were expanded upon by Rothman when the pair collaborated. The complete picture became apparent when Sudhof combined the two scientists' work with his own research stemming from his fascination with vesicles and their signals.

But what does it all mean for me?

The Nobel winners' discoveries don't mean a whole lot for the typical man on the street. Instead, the Nobel Committee rewarded the scientists for the light they have shed on a previously unknown topic.

"New knowledge of how the human organism functions is always good," Hansson told The Local.

"There is not medicine available based on these discoveries, but we hope there will be new therapies in the future and there are already diagnostics based on the machinery. We expect a lot more to come out of it in the future."

Hansson also noted that he anticipated more women to take home the award in the future. While only ten of the 214 winners since 1901 have been female, he pointed to a shift in the statistics over time.

"Although we awarded three middle-aged men this year, if you look at the last ten years - we awarded four women the Nobel Prize. The decade before there was one, so there's an increasing number," he explained.

"That's to be expected, more women are entering science, more are taking leading roles in research... I'd predict that we will see more women, and more people coming outside of north America and western Europe being awarded the Nobel Prize in the future."

Oliver Gee

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