Last month, Yoshinori Ohsumi of the Tokyo Institute of Technology was awarded the 2016 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. Dr. Ohsumi won for his research in autophagy, the mechanism that cells use to break themselves down—an essential function in all cells.
The Nobel Prize, arguably the most prestigious award in the life sciences, was established by Alfred Nobel. A wealthy scientist and inventor, Nobel stipulated in his will that the Physiology or Medicine prize was to be awarded to researchers who “have conferred the greatest benefit on mankind” in the past year.
According to the Nobel website, this prize “is commonly referred to as the Nobel Prize in Medicine. The wording in Alfred Nobel’s will, however, is Physiology or Medicine. It is important to make this distinction since, in the days of Alfred Nobel, physiology was used to describe what is today a number of biological fields.” Indeed, many specialized fields of science and medicine—neuroscience, biochemistry, endocrinology, pharmacology and pathology to name a few—have their roots in physiology. For us at the American Physiological Society (APS), the inclusion of physiology underscores the fundamental importance of this area of research to so many scientific and medical advances that we benefit from today.
Since the first prize was awarded in 1901, 79 researchers who went on to win a Nobel have published their work in APS journals. Many of their discoveries explained how our bodies work, spurred new technologies and led to the development of treatments for diseases such as anemia, diabetes and cancer. Check out our Nobel Laureates page to learn more about these scientists, the research that won them the prize and the articles they published in the APS journals.
Stacy Brooks is the former director of marketing and communications for the American Physiological Society (APS). One of her favorite things about working at APS was learning about the interesting and important research that physiologists do and finding ways to communicate their science to a wide variety of audiences who benefit from these research advances.