Three researchers who studied how cells shuttle around essential molecules in tiny intracellular sacs have won this year’s Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine. James Rothman of Yale University; Randy Schekman of the University of California, Berkeley; and Thomas Südhof of Stanford University earned the award"for their discoveries of machinery regulating vesicle traffic, a major transport system in our cells," according to the announcement from the Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Institute in Stockholm.
The three researchers independently unraveled basic cellular mechanisms several decades ago—in Schekman's case, almost 40 years ago. Although mistakes in cellular transport systems can cause a variety of diseases—including diabetes and neurological and immunological disorders—their work has not yet led to any new drugs or therapies, but it has helped others develop diagnostic tests.
Schekman, who's also an investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), a former editor of theProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and the current editor-in-chief of the open access journal eLife, studied intracellular transport in yeast cells in the 1970s. He identified cells whose transport machinery didn't function properly, causing the vesicles to pile up in the cell, and identified the mutated genes responsible for those problems—a discovery that helped understand how intracellular traffic works under normal circumstances.