Medalists in Medicine

By Avery Naughton

On Monday, October 7th, the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine was awarded. The esteemed prize went to James E. Rothman and Randy W. Schekman of America along with Thomas C. Südhof of Germany.

The three focused their work around the organization of cells in the transportation system. One may be wondering how this organization of cells is relevant to physiology or medicine. As it turns out, the disruption of the organization of these cells during transportation can cause serious illnesses such as diabetes or neurological diseases. James Rothman compared the discover to machinery, stating that “one of the major lessons in all of biochemistry, cell biology and molecular medicine is that when proteins operate at the sub-cellular level they behave in certain ways, as if they were mechanical machinery.”

Each scientist focused his research on a different area, and the combined result of these independent studies won the prize. Schekman studied vesicles, choosing yeast as his model.  Rothman studied complex protein structures and discovered how vesicles are able to dispatch their molecules.. Finally, Sudhof studied the timing of when the vesicles release this cargo by studying nerve cells. Combining their research, it was discovered that the timing of this release is critical to the overall success of the transportation system.

When informed of his win, Rothman commented that when “[winning] actually happens, it’s an out-of-body experience.” On the other hand, his colleague Südhof  was a bit more tight-lipped, merely stating “are you serious?” The third member of the trio, Schekman commented that “it was a thrill, a real thrill.”

The Nobel Foundation was constructed under the will of Alfred Nobel. Born in Sweden in 1833, Alfred Nobel was known for being a fairly successful chemist and inventor. Despite that the foundation was set up after Nobel’s death in 1896, his will stipulated the creation of five separate awards. Nobel spent nearly all of his 31 million dollar assets on the formation of these awards. Some of the most famous winners of the Nobel Prize in several categories are Martin Luther King Jr., Albert Einstein, and Mother Teresa.

Although many students have heard of the Nobel Peace award, many do not know that there are several awards given out. Not only is there the Peace prize, but the prize in Physics, Chemistry, Literature, and Economic Sciences. The awards will be dispersed throughout the week, so keep posted on the various winners.

Focusing on the prize in Physiology or Medicine, several interesting qualities seem to categorize the winners. Of all 204 winners since 1901, the average age is fifty-seven years old. Of the 204 winners, only 38 have been given the award by themselves. Thus far, only ten women have taken home the award, only one as a solo receiver. It’s interesting to note that the two most common birthdays for winners are May 21st and February 28th. If you were born on one of these days, perhaps you are touched by a spark of genius.

For those Canyon Crest students about to graduate and attend colleges, one may find Rothman at Yale University, Schekman at the University of California at Berkley and Sudhof at Stanford University.

Hopefully, this newfound discovery will aid the entire population in finding new inventions in medicine.