The Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Institutet has today decided to award The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for 2002 jointly to Sydney Brenner, H. Robert Horvitz and John E. Sulston for their discoveries concerning "genetic regulation of organ development and programmed cell death"
The human body consists of hundreds of cell types, all originating from the fertilized egg. During the embryonic and foetal periods, the number of cells increase dramatically. The cells mature and become specialized to form the various tissues and organs of the body. Large numbers of cells are formed also in the adult body. In parallel with this generation of new cells, cell death is a normal process, both in the foetus and adult, to maintain the appropriate number of cells in the tissues. This delicate, controlled elimination of cells is called programmed cell death.
This year's Nobel Laureates in Physiology or Medicine have made seminal discoveries concerning the genetic regulation of organ development and programmed cell death. By establishing and using the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans as an experimental model system, possibilities were opened to follow cell division and differentiation from the fertilized egg to the adult. The Laureates have identified key genes regulating organ development and programmed cell death and have shown that corresponding genes exist in higher species, including man. The discoveries are important for medical research and have shed new light on the pathogenesis of many diseases.
Sydney Brenner (b 1927), Berkeley, CA, USA, established C. elegans as a novel experimental model organism. This provided a unique opportunity to link genetic analysis to cell division, differentiation and organ development – and to follow these processes under the microscope. Brenner's discoveries, carried out in Cambridge, UK, laid the foundation for this year's Prize.
John Sulston (b 1942), Cambridge, England, mapped a cell lineage where every cell division and differentiation could be followed in the development of a tissue in C. elegans. He showed that specific cells undergo programmed cell death as an integral part of the normal differentiation process, and he identified the first mutation of a gene participating in the cell death process.
Robert Horvitz (b 1947), Cambridge, MA, USA, has discovered and characterized key genes controlling cell death in C. elegans. He has shown how these genes interact with each other in the cell death process and that corresponding genes exist in humans.
Message posted by: Frank S. Zollmann