Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine Winner 2016 – Yoshinori Ohsumi

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The prestigious Nobel Prize winners have recently been announced and the Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Institutet decided to award the 2016 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine to Yoshinori Ohsumi.

Yoshinori discovered and exposed mechanisms underlying autophagy, a fundamental process for degrading and recycling cellular components.

Background: Yoshinori Ohsumi

He was born in Fukuoka, Japan in 1945. He received a B.Sci in 1967 and a D.Sci in 1974 both from the University of Tokyo. He spent three years at Rockefeller University in New York as a postdoctoral fellow after which he returned to the University of Tokyo where he established his research group in 1988. Apart from being a Nobel Prize winner, he also received the Kyoto Prize for Basic Science in 2012.

What is autophagy?

Autophagy originates from the Greek words auto (self) and phagein (to eat) which essentially comes down to ‘self-eating’.

Autophagy is a physiological process in the body that deals with destruction of cells in the body. Autophagy enables cells to survive stress from nutrient deprivation, accumulation of damaged organelles and pathogen or infective organism invasion.

Early research

During the 1960’s, researchers first discovered that the cell could destroy its own contents by enclosing it in membranes. These cells would form sack-like vesicles that would transport to a recycling compartment called the lysosome for degradation. Little more research was done on the subject.

How Ohsumi solved it with baker’s yeast

In the early 1990’s, Yoshinori Ohsumi started conducting a series of experiments using baker’s yeast to identify the genes essential for autophagy. He discovered the underlying mechanisms for autophagy in yeast and revealed that similar machinery is used in our cells. His discovery led to a new understanding of how the cell recycles its content.

Types of autophagy



Chaperone-mediated Autophagy

Micro- and macropexophagy

Piecemeal microautophagy

If a person’s autophagy process is malfunctioning, it can be life-threatening from birth through to old age. Autophagy gets disrupted especially in Alzheimer’s disease, when toxic protein aggregates aren’t properly discarded.

Previous Nobel Prize winners

2015: William C. Campbell, Satoshi Omura, Youyou Tu for their discoveries concerning a novel therapy against infections caused by roundworm parasites

2014: John O’Keefe, May-Britt Moser, Edvard I. Moser for their discoveries of cells that constitute a positioning system in the brain

2013: James D. Rothman, Randy W. Schekman, Thomas C. Sudhof for their discoveries of machinery regulating vesicle traffic, a major transport system in our cells

2012: Sir John B. Gurdon, Shinya Yamanaka for the discovery that mature cells can be reprogrammed to become pluripotent

More of Yoshinori Ohsumi’s awards

Dr. Paul Janssen Award for Biomedical Research (2016)

Wiley Prize in Biomedical Sciences (2016)

Rosenstiel Award (2015)

Person of Cultural Merit (2015)

Keio Medical Science Prize (2015)

No one prize can truly pay for all the sterling work researchers conduct every day in order to advance research and medicine. Healthshare Health Solutions would like to congratulate all Nobel Prize winners.


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