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BLOG: Sweden's Nobel Prize in Medicine 2016
2016 Nobel Prize winner Yoshinori Ohsumi. Photo: Junko Ozaki/Kyodo News via AP

BLOG: Sweden's Nobel Prize in Medicine 2016

Emma Löfgren · 3 Oct 2016, 12:59

Published: 03 Oct 2016 10:30 GMT+02:00
Updated: 03 Oct 2016 12:59 GMT+02:00

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  • Japanese cell biologist Yoshinori Ohsumi has won the 2016 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine

12:50 That's all for today

If you're just tuning in, here's a round-up of what's been going on in Stockholm today, including an interview with one of the members of the Nobel Prize Assembly.

Christer Höög, professor of molecular cell biology and a member of the Nobel Committee, has told The Local that he hopes it will be an opportunity to turn over a new leaf.

"It is really nice to speak about something good that has actually happened. It has really been a great day to tell the world that we are doing our job, we have generated and informed you about a new fantastic discovery," he said.

Follow us tomorrow when the winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics is announced.

12:25 'Enormous gamechanger'

Here's some of what Christer Höög, a member of the assembly that hands out the Nobel Prize, spoke to our reporter Lee Roden about Ohsumi's discoveries.

"It’s an enormous gamechanger. The basic physiology was there without this discovery. Everything is working in the body. But this is as big as discoveries on DNA replication, the way we deal with DNA repair, it’s similar to DNA repair in a sense because in DNA repair research you deal with DNA molecules. Here, you deal with cell structures which need to be taken care of."

"So without this waste system – and you can see that in cases where genes involved in autophagy are affected – you get a complete mess. Because you cannot identify, package, transport waste, and waste is happening all the time, every day in your body. You need to get rid of it. Otherwise it just piles up, you accumulate it, and you get sick. It is really, really important. The discovery is fundamental and has an enormous impact. If you look at today’s science there are an enormous number of publications that deal with this understanding, fine-tuning and helping us to understand more and more how these things are involved in all basic aspects of biology."

12:00 Stay tuned for more

The press conference is over, but keep an eye on this space. We'll be back with more information about this year's winner shortly.

11:50 Yoshinori Ohsumi

Photo: Niklas Elmehed/Nobel Media

Yoshinori Ohsumi was born in 1945 in Fukuoka, Japan, and works at the Tokyo Institute of Technology. His first reaction when he got the phone call telling him he had won the Nobel Prize was "ah, am I allowed to leave the house?".

The chair of the Nobel Assembly, Professor of Medical Genetics Anna Wedell, tells the press conference: "This is a prize for basic discoveries but it’s already clear that autophagy is critical in both the origin of diseases and handling counteracting them. That applies to a broad range, both to cancers and things like Alzeimhers… He has enabled totally new research areas. Neuro-degeneration is definitely an active area it impacts as is cancer."

Ohsumi is the 23rd Nobel Laureate and the 6th Medicine Laureate born in Japan.

11:40 What's autophagy?

This is the point where everyone tries to understand the winner's research.

Autophagy is "a fundamental process for degrading and recycling cellular components", the Nobel Prize Assembly's summary helpfully explains. "The word autophagy originates from the Greek words auto-, meaning "self", and phagein, meaning "to eat". Thus, autophagy denotes 'self eating'."

11:35 And the winner is...

The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2016 has been awarded to Japanese scientist Yoshinori Ohsumi "for his discoveries of mechanisms for autophagy".

11:27 Get your popcorn ready...

The winner is supposed to be announced at 11:30.

11:25 A fun fact a day keeps the doctor away

11:18 Live stream

If you prefer looking at moving pictures, below is the live stream of the announcement.

11:16 Well, why wouldn't you?

11:12 How does the winner get picked?

The 50 members of the Nobel Assembly decide on the winner through a majority vote. There's plenty of secrecy involved. Here's but one example: an expert will be available to answer journalists' questions later. The Local's reporter Lee Roden, who's at the press conference, just asked who the expert would be and was told it was a secret. Not even the media staff know. Apparently there is a list of ten or more experts and depending on who wins, an expert in that area is the person who does the interviews.

11:08 210 individuals have won the Medicine/Physiology Prize

Alfred Nobel's will specified that prizes should be given for the "most important discovery" in physics, chemistry and medicine, as well as the "most outstanding work in an ideal direction" in the world of literature". There was also the fifth prize for peace, which Swedes prefer to refer to as "that other Nobel Prize" (it's handed out in Oslo – good old Scandinavian rivalry).

The Medicine Prize has been awarded since 1901, with the exception of nine years: 1915, 1916, 1917, 1918, 1921, 1925, 1940, 1941 and 1942. Why? Well, the statutes of the Nobel Foundation say: "If none of the works under consideration is found to be of the importance indicated in the first paragraph, the prize money shall be reserved until the following year. If, even then, the prize cannot be awarded, the amount shall be added to the Foundation's restricted funds."

Imagine the disappointment of all the international journalists gathered at the press conference today if at the end of this long wait, they just tell us "nah, go home, couldn't think of one this year".

A total of 38 Medicine prizes have been given to one laureate only, 32 shared between two laureates and 36 shared between three.

10:54 Macchiarini who, what now?

Just a quick recap: Italian surgeon Paolo Macchiarini, who worked at the Karolinska University Hospital and the Karolinska Institute in Solna north of Stockholm, had gained a reputation as a leading specialist in windpipe transplants, but two of his patients died and he was accused of falsifying research and his CV. Harriet Wallberg and Anders Hamsten, the two Nobel judges who lost their positions on the panel in the wake of the ensuing scandal, had previously served as heads of the Karolinska Institute. 

Read more about the biggest soap opera in Swedish medical research history here. Macchiarini himself, it is worth noting, denies the allegations against him.

10:48 Recovering from scandal

Story continues below…

This is the week when Sweden likes to think the rest of the world stops and turns its eyes on Stockholm. In this case, the Nobel Assembly at the Karolinska Institute may have had enough attention this year. It is still recovering from a scandal involving the medical university's now-former researcher Paolo Macchiarini.

Two of the members of the panel were removed (or, politely asked to step down) earlier this summer as a result of the controversy, but some of the other university researchers involved in the Macchiarini scandal are still members of the Nobel Assembly. They are however understood not to have taken part in picking this year's winner.

10:30 It's a new dawn, it's a new day...

... it's a new Nobel Prize season. We kick off with the announcement of the 2016 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine (try saying that quickly ten times in a row) in around an hour. Live blogging the event for you is our editor Emma Löfgren with our reporter Lee Roden reporting directly from the press conference in Stockholm. Don't forget to follow them on Twitter. While you're at it, follow The Local too.

For more news from Sweden, join us on Facebook and Twitter.

Emma Löfgren (emma.lofgren@thelocal.com)

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