October 04, 2010

Nobel season '10: Physiology or Medicine

Later today the Nobel committee at the Karolinska Institute will announce the winners of this year's Nobel prize in physiology or medicine. Last year I tipped my favourites to win and I was right. This year I've been a bit too busy to read up on the latest Nobel buzz so I don't want to offer a prediction. A personal favourite from previous years is the identification of the breast cancer early onset genes (BRCA) and Marie-Claire King, but it seems that most people are betting on stem cells or leptin this year.

The discovery of stem cells and the development of induced pluripotent stem cells from adult cells is indeed a worthy discovery and the names of Jame Till, Ernest McCulloch, John Gurdon and Shinya Yamanaka have been thrown around. The discovery of leptin and its effects on appetite regulation would be very exciting for our lab since we (I use "we" very loosely here) have done a lot of work on the Neuropeptide Y system, which is partly what leptin acts upon. In that field we have Douglas Coleman and Jeffrey Friedman who won this year's Lasker award for their discovery. I've also seen dendritic cells and Ralph Steinmann being thrown around among the potential winners, and there are of course old contenders such as nuclear receptors and Ronald Evans, Pierre Chambon and Elwood Jensen, or cell-membrane transportation and James Rothman and Randy Schekman among many others.

Whoever wins it this year, I'm sure it will be for a discovery that has meant a lot for and is deeply embedded in basic biological science. It's a focus that is often lacking from the popular media reports on the Nobel prize, and it's basically the only reason I bother to write something about the prizes every year. Because no matter how technical the achievement or how important the application is for human health, most of the laureated discoveries have begun with someone studying a basic biological phenomenon and biology deserves to be lifted to the forefront.

You can see the official announcement right here on this handy widget supplied by nobelprize.org at 11.30 local time (9.30 GMT).

>>Update 11:35

It's just been announced that Robert Edwards is the sole recipient of the Nobel prize in physiology or medicine for his development of in vitro fertilization. His Wikipedia page was updated within seconds, which is just crazy.

I hadn't expected this one. Cool.

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