Nobel Prize in Medicine Runner-Ups

Citation Laureates in Medicine for 2013

Since 2002 the Thomson's citation data has been used to predict the coming year's Nobel Laureates, as part of the ScienceWatch web resource (SW). The list is derived from Thomson Reuters Web of Knowledge and has been somewhat predictive of the actual Nobel laureates. The 2013 citation laureates list contains several life scientists and chemists from three fields of research. SW had predicted that one of the following three major fields will be the focus of the Medicine Noble prize.

And while Professors Rothman, Schekman, and Südhof, this year's ultimate winners, weren't on the SW list, it's worth having a look at these "runner-ups". Who knows - some of the names below might well be awarded The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2014!

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Autophagy

The process of cellular self degradation of unnecessary or dysfunctional organelles within the cell was discovered in the 1950's. In the past decade attention to the field has risen tremendously, pushing the field to front of scientific research. Three researchers were chosen for their contribution to the field:

Daniel J. Klionsky led the pioneering discovery of the cytoplasm to vacuole targeting pathway (CvT) which is the only known biosynthetic function of autophagy.

Noboru Mizushima has been researching autophagy since his post-doctoral studies under the supervision of Yoshinori Ohsumi. He helped highlight the importance of autophagous processes in embryo development through mouse models.

Yoshinori Ohsumi has conducted and led to the pioneering identification and elucidation of the autophagy process components in yeasts. His lab discoveries laid the ground for the understanding of autophagy in higher mammals.

DNA Methylation and Gene Expression

Methylation is one of the most fundamental DNA modifications that control gene expression in unicellular and multicellular organisms. In prokaryotes it functions as a defense mechanism against virus intrusion while in higher mammals it enables all cells to contain the same genetic material yet to express only those genes that are relevant to the specific organ the cells belong to. The DNA methylation epigenetic gene regulation was discovered in the late 1970's and later it was shown that cancer cells take advantage of hyper- or hypo-methylation to inactivate tumor suppressor genes, on the one hand, or to induce gene expression of proto-oncogenes, on the other. Three researchers were identified in this field:

Aharon Razin and Howard Cedar together pioneered the discovery that DNA methylation controls gene expression and thus dictates which gene will be expressed in which cell. By doing so, Razin and Cedar have led to the initiation of a new study of biology known as epigenetics.  Epigenetic mechanisms have helped scientists understand the connection between DNA methylation and embryonic development as well as its relation to many human diseases.

Adrian P. Bird led the discovery of CpG islands and the identification of non-methylated CpG islands which were mapped to gene's promoters and thus were used to map genes in the pre-genome sequencing era. Today the lab of Prof. Bird tries to elucidate the function of DNA methylation as a possible causal factor of Rett syndrome through the use of mouse models as well as studying DNA methylated associated proteins.

HER-2/neu Oncogene

A member of the epidermal growth factor receptor family, HER-2/neu oncogene (or p185) was first characterized by the group of Robert A. Weinberg in 1984 and came into center stage following the strong correlation between its elevated expression levels in malignant tissues and the manifestation of breast cancer. This proto-oncogene, and its translated protein, are and still heavily researched. Raised monoclonal antibodies against the receptor have shown to be highly effective in fighting breast cancer. 

Dennis J. Slamon led the research and development of the highly successful Herceptin antibody against breast cancer, a discovery which led to the development of the field of monoclonal antibodies therapeutics.

Who did you think would win the prestigious Noble prize for Medicine 2013?