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Japanese Scientist Wins Nobel in Medicine


03 October, 2016

Yushinori Ohsumi of Japan has won the 2016 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.

The Nobel Assembly at Sweden's Karolinska Institute announced the prize on Monday.

The institute is honoring Ohsumi for his experiments with baker's yeast in the 1990s. He studied a natural process in which cells break down and reuse some of their parts.

Yoshinori Ohsumi, a professor of Tokyo Institute of Technology smiles in front of a celebration message board after he won the Nobel medicine prize in Yokohama, Japan, October 3, 2016 in this photo released by Kyodo.
Yoshinori Ohsumi, a professor of Tokyo Institute of Technology smiles in front of a celebration message board after he won the Nobel medicine prize in Yokohama, Japan, October 3, 2016 in this photo released by Kyodo.

This process is called autophagy. The word autophagy comes from two words in the Greek language. They are "auto-," meaning "self," and phagein, meaning "to eat."

The prize committee said understanding the science behind this process has led to a better understanding of diseases such as cancer, Parkinson's and type 2 diabetes.

The Karolinska Institute said, "His discoveries opened the path to understanding the fundamental importance of autophagy in many physiological processes."

"Autophagy has been known for over 50 years, but its fundamental importance in physiology and medicine was only recognized after Yoshinori Ohsumi's paradigm-shifting research," it said.

"Thanks to Ohsumi and others following in his footsteps, we now know that autophagy controls important physiological functions," to break down and recycle cellular particles.

Ohsumi is now a professor at the Tokyo Institute of Technology. He told the Kyodo news agency he was "extremely honored" to get the prize.

Separately, he told Japanese broadcaster NHK he had "always wanted to do something that other people wouldn't do."

He said the breakdown of particles interested him.

Christer Hogg is a professor with Sweden's Karolinska Institute. He said the experiments helped explain important processes in human development, from growing up, to aging, to dying from a disease.

"In the very early stages, your organs and your whole body is constantly being made over again – you are growing. So you need to get rid of the old stuff and generate new structures," he told Reuters news service.

"When you undergo aging, you have structures that have to be taken away, and this – autophagy – is the principle that gets rid of them."

"If you affect this system – the genes and proteins involved in autophagy – you no longer can take care of the waste, and once it accumulates, you will get some type of disease," he said.

The prize for physiology or medicine is the first Nobel Prize awarded each year. It is worth $930,000.

Other Nobel prizes will be announced this week and next week.

I'm Caty Weaver.

Fern Robinson reported this story for VOANews. George Grow adapted her report for Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor.

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Words in This Story

physiology – n. a science that deals with the way living things work or operate

baker's yeast – n. the common name given to organisms used to help bread or baking products rise when heated

paradigm-shiftingadj. of or related to changing theories or ideas about how something should be done or made

stage – n. a period in the growth of development of something

rid v. to make free (of something)

accumulate v. to gather something or over time

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