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Japan’s Yoshinori Ohsumi Wins 2016 Nobel Medicine Prize for Work in Autophagy

Japan's Yoshinori Ohsumi was awarded the 2016 Nobel prize for medicine or physiology Monday for his discovery of how cells break down and recycle their content, which could lead to a better understanding of diseases like cancer, Parkinson's and type 2 diabetes.

"Ohsumi's discoveries led to a new paradigm in our understanding of how the cell recycles its content," the Nobel Assembly at Sweden's Karolinska Institute said in a statement on awarding the prize of $933,000.

"His discoveries opened the path to understanding ... many physiological processes, such as in the adaptation to starvation or response to infection," the statement added.

Image: Yoshinori Ohsumi, a professor in Tokyo Institute of Technology, was awarded the 2016 Nobel prize for medicine.
Yoshinori Ohsumi, a professor in Tokyo Institute of Technology, was awarded the 2016 Nobel prize for medicine. HANDOUT / Reuters

Ohsumi's work on cell breakdown, a field known as autophagy, is important because it can help explain what goes wrong in a range of diseases.

"Mutations in autophagy ('self eating') genes can cause disease, and the autophagic process is involved in several conditions including cancer and neurological disease," the statement said.

Ohsumi, born in 1945 in Fukuoka, Japan, has been a professor at the Tokyo Institute of Technology since 2009.

"I am extremely honored," he told Kyodo News agency.

The prize for Physiology or Medicine is the first of the Nobel prizes awarded each year. Prizes for achievements in science, literature and peace were first awarded in 1901 in accordance with the will of dynamite inventor and businessman Alfred Nobel.

This year, the Karolinska Institute, the institution that awards the medicine prize, has been immersed in a scandal over the hiring of a controversial surgeon. The Swedish government dismissed several members of the board in September.