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NOBEL PRIZE LAUREATE IN MEDICINE: james e. rothman
Since 1901, the Nobel Foundation, which was established as a bequeath of the late Alfred Nobel has awarded Nobel Prizes in five notable fields of global achievement, among which is Physiology or Medicine. Featured in this article is the recipient of one of the three foreemost scientists who received that award in 2013, James E. Rothman. Along with Randy Schekman and Thomas Sudhof whose work alongside Rothman’s paved for the discovery of machinery regulating vesicle traffic, a major transport system in human cells. This achievement represents an advancement in the field of biochemistry and cell physiology.
According to Yale News (2013), James E. Rothman is alumnus, professor and chair of the Department of Cell Biology at Yale University, whose research who demonstrated in his research that there is a membrane transport system that enables vesicles, those cellular compartments that contain information, to transmit that information to exact destination in both inside the cell and surrounding it. Rothman demonstrated his contribution to the vesicle transport mechanism discovery by utilizing biochemical research. Rothman proceeded to look into the complex vesicle traffic problem biochemically in what is called a “cell-free” system, breaking down each step in the process and recreating it in the laboratory (Yale News, 2013). This was a challenge to the popular scientific belief that isolating each of the mechanisms outside the cell was simply not possible. Because of Rothman and other scientists, more information and detail are known about the the genes and enzymes responsible for the budding of vesicles and their fusion in membranes. The process of fusing vesicles and cellular membranes called exocytosis is basic to life and it is said to occur in diverse organisms from yeast to humans. Exocytosis is central to physiological functions that range from the secretion of insulin to the regulation of the brain neurotransmitters that control and aid movement, perception, memory, and mood (The Nobel Assembly, 2013)
As explained in the Scientific Background published by the Nobel Assembly (2013), specificity in the delivery of molecular cargo, where molecular cargo reaches its exact destination for cells to function and survive, is required for the transmission of neurotransmitters from nerve cell to a neighboring nerve cell. Specificity is required for the export of hormones such as insulin to the cell surface. Previously, vesicles within the cell were known be critical components of this transmission system but it was never clear how precisely the mechanism operates to allow vesicles to find their correct destinations and how they fused with organelles or the plasma membrane to deliver the cargo (The Nobel Assembly, 2013). Rothman’s biochemical approach was pioneering and he identified proteins that stabilizes this cell fusion to ensure precise delivery of molecular cargo to its right destination.
Along with his fellow Nobel Prize Awardees who performed related research on vesicles transport mechanism, Rothman transformed how scientists view the transport of molecular cargo to specific destinations inside and outside the cell. This clarified one of the puzzling questions in cell biology and how disturbances in the machinery can have adverse effects that contribute to human disease such as diabetes, neurological diseases and immunological disorders (The Nobel Assembly, 2013).
The work of Rothman is notable in that he performed pioneering experiments (the use of broken cells) and discovered new processes (purified components in artificial systems) to understand cellular structures and intercellular communication especially (Yale News, 2013). This marks a great advancenment in modern membrane biology. Rothman states in his interview with GE Reports that the cells that make up the human body need to communicate with each other or their functionality is compromised, different organs need to talk to each other, and there have to be signals or information flowing between these components in order to function properly (GE Reports, 2014). Rothman put this supposition into working knowledge by proving it scientifically. There is obvious challenge for other fields such as pharmacology to respond to the medical and pharmacological implications Rothman’s discovery brings. For example, there would be the imperative to address how to research into new medicines to manage these diseases caused by “wrong” vesicle trafficking in the light of the information brought into the open by this latest Nobel Prize discoveries.
GE Reports. (2014). The Simple Goals of Complex Systems: Nobel Laureate James E. Rothman Talks About Nanomachines, Cutting Through the Fog, Personalized Medicine and the Benefits of Becoming Fish Wrap. Retrieved from http://www.gereports.com/post/74545280626/the-simple-goals-of-complex-systems-nobel-laureate.
The Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Institutet. (2013). Machinery Regulating Vesicle Traffic, A Major Transport System in our Cells. Retrieved from http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/medicine/laureates/2013/advanced-medicineprize2013.pdf.
The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. (2013). Nobelprize.org. Nobel Media AB 2013. Retrieved from http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/medicine/laureates/2013/.
Yale News. (2013). Yale’s James Rothman Shares 2013 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. Retrieved from http://news.yale.edu/2013/10/07/yale-s-james-rothman-shares-2013-nobel-prize-physiology-or-medicine.