In a few hours the Nobel committee at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm will announce this year's Nobel prize winner in Physiology or Medicine. I'm going to be watching it all go down in this here handy live-feed video widget. The chemistry prize, which is often awarded to advancements in basic molecular biology, is being announced on Wednesday.
I've gone through some of my favorites for the prize in the previous year's pair of posts, and there's no doubt they're still current. Arthur Horwich went on to win this year's Lasker Award together with Franz-Ulrich Hartl for their work on chaperone-assisted protein folding, but sadly Ernest McCulloch died earlier this year without ever receiving the prize for his participation in the discovery of stem cells together with James Till.
I think maybe it's time again that a discovery in neuroscience was awarded the physiology or medicine prize. Neuroscience is heavily overrepresented among the physiology and medicine wins, but the last time was a whole five years ago. Maybe something related to neurogenesis and the discovery of adult neural stem cells, where we have names like Sally Temple (more women laureates!), Brent Reynolds and Samuel Weiss.
>> Update 10.20
The science reporter for Swedish morning newspaper Dagens Nyheter came out with a list of possible laureates. It covers the usual suspects that I had mentioned before, but a cool possibility I had missed is David Julius for his discovery of Trp channels, sensory proteins that respond to pressure, stretching, pain, heat and cold, and interestingly also "hot" and "cool" substances such as the capsaicin in chili and menthol in peppermint. This prize would have strong ties to basic research in neuroscience as well as interesting practical applications.
>> Update 11:45
The live video feed has some technical difficulties, but through Twitter we learn that this year's Nobel prize in Physiology or Medicine has been awarded jointly to Bruce A. Beutler and Jules A. Hoffmann "for their discoveries concerning the activation of innate immunity", and Ralph M. Steinman "for his discovery of the dendritic cell and its role in adaptive immunity". I had sort of tipped on Steinman and the dendritic cells last year, but the pairing with the discovery of Toll and Toll-like receptors by Beutler and Hoffmann makes sense since it joins together important advances in both innate and adaptive immunity. Steinman won the Lasker award in 2007.
Here is more information from the Nobel prize website.
Shockingly, as I read from several sources, Ralph Steinman died this Friday, mere hours before the decision was made. The Nobel prizes cannot be awarded posthumously unless the death happens after the announcement. The secretary of the Nobel committee at the Karolinska Institute tells Dagens Nyheter "We will have to examine the practical consequences together with the Nobel foundation in the coming days". Clearly they were not aware Steinman had died before making the announcement. Steinman's colleagues at The Rockefeller University in New York just learned the news this morning.