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The winners of this year’s Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine were announced this morning.
Three U.S. scientists — Randy Schekman of the University of California, Berkeley, James Rothman of Yale, and German-born Thomas Südhof of Stanford University — will share the award for their work on the transportation of materials within cells. Think of it as the FedEx of the body.
“I got that phone call, but being in California, it happened at 1:30 in the morning here,” Randy Schekman told Here & Now.
Schekman explains that all cells manufacture protein molecules — the fundamental components that cells use to nourish themselves and grow and divide.
“But [cells] also devote some fraction of their energy to producing molecules for shipment outside of the cell,” Schekman said. “The broad outline of how this happens had been established by cell biologists in the ’70s, but how the cell organizes the nuts and bolts of this, mechanistically, was not understood.”
The application of Schekman’s work on cellular transportation has resulted in the manufacture of useful proteins, such as insulin, and the protein used in the hepatitis vaccine.
“At this stage, particularly, with this unbelievable federal paralysis that’s really dismantling this enormous biomedical enterprise, the word needs to get out again that basic science is crucially important,” Schekman said. “Without the basic investment, progress on these things will come to a screeching halt.”