Japanese cell biologist Yoshinori Ohsumi was awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine this morning for his discoveries of mechanisms for autophagy. In simple terms, autophagy is the physiological process that deals with the destruction of cells, thereby allowing for the recycling of new cellular content. The process was first observed in the 1960s and built upon by Ohsumi in experiments in the 1990s when he “used baker’s yeast to identify genes essential for autophagy,” according to the Nobel Assembly. The Nobel Prize in medicine has been awarded to a Japanese cell biologist for discoveries on how cells break down and recycle their own components. Yoshinori Ohsumi, 71, will receive the prestigious 8m Swedish kronor (£718,000) award for uncovering “mechanisms for autophagy”, a fundamental process in cells that scientists believe can be harnessed to fight cancer and dementia. Autophagy is the body’s internal recycling programme – scrap cell components are captured and the useful parts are stripped out to generate energy or build new cells. The process is crucial for preventing cancerous growths, warding off infection and, by maintaining a healthy metabolism, it helps protect against conditions like diabetes. Autophagy can rapidly provide fuel for energy and building blocks for renewal of cellular components, and is therefore essential for the cellular response to starvation and other types of stress,” it said. During the news conference, Ohsumi lamented that in Japan today, scientists often face pressure to achieve quick results “that are useful for something,” such as those that can be used for practical medical treatments within mere years. Yoshinori Ohsumi wins Nobel Prize in medicine – as it happened Prize awarded for cell biologist Ohsumi’s work on autophagy – how the body’s cells detoxify and repair themselves. Dysfunctional autophagy has been linked to Parkinson’s disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer and a host of age-related disorders. Intense research is underway to develop drugs that can target autophagy to treat various diseases. The reason Ohsumi’s work matters is because “disruptions in autophagy are thought to underlie many conditions, including cancer, infections, neurological diseases, and aging. The Chinese chemist, Tu Youyou, was recognized for her discovery of artemisinin, one of the most effective treatments for malaria. Two other researchers, Satoshi Ōmura, an expert in soil microbes at Kitasato University, and William Campbell, an Irish-born parasitologist at Drew University in New Jersey, shared the other half of the prize, for the discovery of avermectin, a treatment for roundworm parasites. The winners of the physics, chemistry and peace prizes are to be announced later this week. The economics prize will be announced on Monday 10 October.