The 2016 Nobel Prize in Medicine or Physiology was granted to Yoshinori Ohsumi, a Japanese biologist who studies the process of waste digestion/recycling in cells, known as “autophagy.”
Autophagy is derived from Greek, and translates to “self eating.” It describes the process by which cells break down non-essential components within themselves and reuse it to release energy, perform metabolic functions, or give way to new functional parts. The disruption of autophagy is also thought to have a key role in cancer, immunological/neurological diseases, and aging.
In his research, Ohsumi experimented with yeast cells to identify 15 genes responsible for coding the elaborate mechanism of autophagy. Ohsumi’s work has led to a plethora of research in the field of autophagy, as more and more scientists are starting to recognize the value and potential that innovations in this field can have. Understanding the intricate mechanisms that guide cellular processes can shed light on possible cures for diseases such as cancer or Parkinson’s disease.