Two Americans and a German-American won the Nobel Prize in medicine on Monday for discovering how key substances are transported within cells, a process involved in such important activities as brain cell communication and the release of insulin.
STOCKHOLM (AP) — Two Americans and a German-American won the Nobel Prize in medicine on Monday for discovering how key substances are transported within cells, a process involved in such important activities as brain cell communication and the release of insulin.
James Rothman, 62, of Yale University, Randy Schekman, 64, of the University of California, Berkeley, and Thomas Sudhof, 57, of Stanford University shared the $1.2 million prize for their research on how tiny bubbles called vesicles act as cargo carriers inside cells.
This traffic control system ensures that the cargo is delivered to the right place at the right time and keeps activities inside cells from descending into chaos, the committee said. Defects can be harmful, leading to neurological diseases, diabetes and disorders affecting the immune system.
"Imagine hundreds of thousands of people who are traveling around hundreds of miles of streets; how are they going to find the right way? Where will the bus stop and open its doors so that people can get out?" Nobel committee secretary Goran Hansson said. "There are similar problems in the cell."
The winners' discoveries in the 1970s, '80s and '90s have helped doctors diagnose a severe form of epilepsy and immune deficiency diseases in children, Hansson said. In the future, scientists hope the research could lead to medicines against more common types of epilepsy, diabetes and other metabolism deficiencies, he added.
Schekman said he was awakened at 1 a.m. at his home in California by the chairman of the prize committee and was still suffering from jetlag after returning from a trip to Germany the night before.
"I wasn't thinking too straight. I didn't have anything elegant to say," he told The Associated Press. "All I could say was 'Oh my God,' and that was that."
He called the prize a wonderful acknowledgment of the work he and his students had done and said he knew it would change his life.
"I called my lab manager and I told him to go buy a couple bottles of Champagne and expect to have a celebration with my lab," he said.