Nobel Prize Goes to Researchers Who Unravelled the Machinery of Vesicle Traffic

Stanford, Yale and UC Berkeley

From left to right: Dr. James Rothman, Dr. Randy Schekman & Dr. Thomas Sudhof

Researchers from Stanford, Berkeley and Yale were announced the joint winners of the 2013 Nobel Prize in Medicine for their work on unraveling the inter cellular transit pathways of vesicles. Dr. Thomas Südhof of Stanford, Dr. Randy Schekman of UC Berkeley and Dr. James Rothman of Yale University, were announced as the joint winners of the $1.25 million award by the Sweden based Nobel Prize committee.

The Nobel Assembly announced the award in a press release on Monday, saying that, “through their discoveries, Rothman, Schekman and Südhof have revealed the exquisitely precise control system for the transport and delivery of cellular cargo.”

The three researchers will share the Nobel Prize for their work on unraveling the intercellular pathways of vesicle traffic in live cells. They individually discovered different facets of the mystery of how cells organize a system to move the molecules within cells and export them outside. They were able to improve on the understanding of vesicles or tiny bubbles used by cells to organize and ship hormones, enzymes and antibodies inside a cell, something that can only be compared to the rush hour traffic of a city like New York. A slight error in this cellular mechanism leads to diseases such as diabetes, neurological and immunological disorders, something that our healthy bodies confirm that does not occur that frequently.

The three scientists contributed to a key and complementary part to the understanding of the inner workings of a living cell:

       – Dr. Schekman was instrumental in unraveling how the vesicles function and the genes that control the sorting, packaging and delivering of proteins in these tiny bubbles that lead to precision delivery of their cargo. List of all his publications.

       – Dr. Rothman contributed to the understanding of the process of protein transfer from vesicles to their targets via protein complexes which are unique for their target membranes. Schekman and Rothman’s work on describing the pathways via which proteins are shuttled in and out of the membrane has also led to building a conceptual foundation for hepatitis B vaccine and also improving the production of synthetic insulin for diabetic patients. Check out his full list of publications here.

        – Dr. Südhof revealed the process by which the cell signals these vesicles to release their cargo to their target. Apart from this, Südhof has contributed abundantly to unlocking the secrets of synapses, which could lead to treatment for diseases such as Alzheimer’s    The list of his research papers can be seen here.

 Dr. Rothman at a press conference expressed his concern about the budgetary difficulties with conducting research nowadays. He said that before “your idea was the only limit, any risk could be taken no matter how difficult.”  Today, he said, there is very little support for risky ideas, “and it is becoming a pressing national issue, if not an international one.”

Discoverers of “God Particle” Awarded the Noble Prize in Physics

In a separate announcement, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics to Francois Englert and Peter Higgs, who 50 years ago independently announced the existence of the “God Particle” or Higgs Boson. The existence of the Higgs Boson was confirmed by the CERN laboratory in Switzerland.

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