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article imageNobel Prize In Medicine Awarded To Two New Yorkers

By Digital     Oct 10, 2000 in Technology
STOCKHOLM, SWEDEN - On October 9, 2000, The Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Institutet has today decided to award The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for 2000 jointly to Arvid Carlsson, Paul Greengard and Eric Kandel for their discoveries concerning "signal transduction in the nervous system."
Two Americans and a Swede were recognized for for their work in helping treat Parkinson’s disease and depression. Two of the winners are affiliated with New York scientific institutions.
ARVID CARLSSON, PAUL Greengard and Eric Kandel will share the $915,000 prize for their pioneering discoveries concerning one way brain cells send messages to each other, according to the award citation.
These discoveries have been crucial for an understanding of the normal function of the brain. In addition, it laid the groundwork for developing the standard treatment for Parkinson's disease and contributed to the development a class of antidepressants that includes Prozac, the Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Institute said.
Carlsson, 77, is with the University of Goteborg in Sweden, Greengard, 74, is with Rockefeller University in New York and Kandel, 70, is an Austrian-born U.S. citizen with Columbia University in New York.
The medicine prize was the first announced in a week of awards. The winners of the prizes for physics, chemistry and economics will be announced later this week in Stockholm. The awards culminate Friday with the coveted peace prize in Oslo, Norway.
Carlsson's studies during the late 1950s led to the discovery of the drug L-dopa, used to treat Parkinson's disease, which is still the most important treatment for the disease, the committee said.
Greengard was awarded for his discovery of how dopamine and other chemical messengers shuttle messages between brain cells. Kandel was cited for his research on the biology of memory, showing the importance of changes in the synapse, a tiny gap between brain cells where messages are transmitted.
Last year's winner was Dr. Guenter Blobel, 64, a German native and U.S. citizen who discovered how proteins find their rightful places in cells -- a process that goes awry in diseases like cystic fibrosis and plays a key role in the manufacture of some medicines.
This year's award for medicine was bumped to the top slot after the academy failed to reach a decision last week on the literature price -- usually the first announced.
The Swedish Academy, which traditionally keeps the date of the literature prize secret until a couple days before it announces the winner, has not set a time yet, but it is always a Thursday, usually in October.
The suspense for the literature award was heightened last week when the academy failed to reach a decision. Alfred Nobel, the Swedish industrialist and inventor of dynamite, left only vague guidelines in his will establishing the prizes. The selection committees deliberate in strict secrecy.
The only public hints available are for the peace prize. The five-member awards committee never reveals the candidates, but sometimes those making the nominations announce their favorites.
This year that includes President Clinton and former President Jimmy Carter for wide-ranging peace efforts, as well as former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell for his efforts to resolve conflict in Northern Ireland.
Other reported nominees are former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari and former Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin for their Balkan peace efforts; South Korean President Kim Dae-jung for promoting good relations in Asia; and a town, northern Albania's Kukes, for accepting 150,000 refugees during the Kosovo conflict.
The literature and peace laureates are usually the most visible, but the new adjectives "Nobel winner" often also bring scientists more attention from outside their laboratories.
As for the first announcement, Nobel's direction that a prize be awarded to the person who made "the most important discovery within the domain of physiology or medicine" is interpreted by a committee of 50 professors from the world-renowned Karolinska Institute in the Swedish capital. The awards always are presented Dec. 10, the anniversary of Nobel's death in 1896.
The Nobel Assembly at Karolinska invites nominations from previous recipients, professors of medicine and other professionals worldwide before whittling down its choices in the fall, as do the other selection committees.
In the human brain there are more than hundred billion nerve cells. They are connected to each other through an infinitely complex network of nerve processes. The message from one nerve cell to another is transmitted through different chemical transmitters. The signal transduction takes place in special points of contact, called synapses. A nerve cell can have thousands of such contacts with other nerve cells.
The three Nobel Laureates in Physiology or Medicine have made pioneering discoveries concerning one type of signal transduction between nerve cells, referred to as slow synaptic transmission. These discoveries have been crucial for an understanding of the normal function of the brain and how disturbances in this signal transduction can give rise to neurological and psychiatric diseases. These findings have resulted in the development of new drugs.
Arvid Carlsson, Department of Pharmacology, University of Gothenburg is rewarded for his discovery that dopamine is a transmitter in the brain and that it has great importance for our ability to control movements. His research has led to the realization that Parkinson's disease is caused by a lack of dopamine in certain parts of the brain and that an efficient remedy (L-dopa) for this disease could be developed. Arvid Carlsson has made a number of subsequent discoveries, which have further clarified the role of dopamine in the brain. He has thus demonstrated the mode of action of drugs used for the treatment of schizophrenia.
Paul Greengard, Laboratory of Molecular and Cellular Science, Rockefeller University, New York, is rewarded for his discovery of how dopamine and a number of other transmitters exert their action in the nervous system. The transmitter first acts on a receptor on the cell surface. This will trigger a cascade of reactions that will affect certain "key proteins" that in turn regulate a variety of functions in the nerve cell. The proteins become modified as phosphate groups are added (phosphorylation) or removed (dephosphorylation), which causes a change in the shape and function of the protein. Through this mechanism the transmitters can carry their message from one nerve cell to another.
Eric Kandel, Center for Neurobiology and Behavior, Columbia University, New York, is rewarded for his discoveries of how the efficiency of synapses can be modified, and which molecular mechanisms that take part. With the nervous system of a sea slug as experimental model he has demonstrated how changes of synaptic function are central for learning and memory. Protein phosphorylation in synapses plays an important role for the generation of a form of short term memory. For the development of a long term memory a change in protein synthesis is also required, which can lead to alterations in shape and function of the synapse.
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