Each year the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine is awarded to those who have made the most important discovery in the field. In 2002, the most important discovery concerned apoptosis. That year, the winners – Sydney Brenner, H. Robert Horvitz, and John E. Sulston – were jointly awarded “for their discoveries concerning genetic regulation of organ development and programmed cell death.”
Their discoveries were profoundly simple, but very important. For example, they found that for every cell that is born, another cell must die to keep the tissues balanced with the right number of cells. They also found that programmed cell death – apoptosis – is as important as cell birth.
The doctors also identified some of the genes that regulate organ development and apoptosis. Then they showed that these genes or their corollaries can be found in species ranging from simple worms like the C. elegans, pictured here, to the massively complicated human.
Balance Is Sought Throughout the Natural Life Cycle
Drs. Brenner, Horvitz and Sulston also provided a foundational understanding that has since helped thousands of medical researchers around the globe come up with new ways to keep balance in the body. Their clear description of apoptosis – and their demonstrating how it is used by the body to maintain balance from the womb to the tomb – has inspired deep insights into health.
Apoptosis has become one of the hottest, most cutting edge areas of science. We owe Drs. Brenner, Horvitz, and Sulston a debt of gratitude for bringing so much attention to this most critical cellular process.
To learn more about their work, please visit the official Nobel Prize website, where you can read the press release and see a beautiful color poster about apoptosis. Official Nobel Prize Website
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