2013 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine

By Casey Frye, CCNN Writer

Nobel Prize winners in medicine 2013
This year’s Nobel Prize winners in physiology or medicine. From left to right: James E. Rothman, Randy W. Schekman, and Thomas C. Sudhof.

Every year, the international Nobel Prize awards are given to people who advance humanity through medicine, science, literature, peace, and other topics. This year’s 2013 Nobel Prize winners in physiology or medicine have tapped deeply into our bodies, unearthing precious wisdom.

Well, what exactly did they find? Let me put it this way. The ancient mystery of how the human cell organizes its transportation system has been solved! While cells are tiny, basic units of life, there are much smaller processes going on inside of them. Discovering how all the busy traffic inside a cell goes from one place to another is as important as making sure your bus driver knows where he’s going!

It can even mean the difference between life and death. For example, mini bubbles called “vesicles” make sure important chemicals get moved around the body correctly, like when they help release something called “insulin” into the bloodstream. Insulin makes sure the human body balances its sugar levels, which is important in dealing with diabetes – a deadly disease where the human body doesn’t have enough insulin.

On Monday, Americans Randy W. Schekman and James E. Rothman, along with German Thomas C. Sudhof, were awarded the Nobel Prize in medicine and physiology (how living systems, like the body, function), for their work with vesicles.

Sudhof, a professor at Stanford University, was able to identify how vesicles are instructed when to release chemicals, while Schekman, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, found the set of genes needed for controlling “vesicle traffic.” Rothman, who’s a professor at Yale University, outlined how vesicles can merge with their targets to deliver the goods.

These discoveries will greatly improve treatments for diabetes, brain diseases, and illnesses in the immune system (our body’s disease-fighting system). After all, if scientists know how, when, and where vesicles deliver chemicals, then they can make sure the traffic driving through our cells can smoothly carry healthy goodness right where it needs to go!

Images courtesy of Nobel Prize.