By DR. DAVID NIESEL

Every year the Nobel Assembly at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm honors those who have made seminal contributions in science through the awarding of Nobel Prizes in Physiology or Medicine and in Chemistry. A Nobel Prize is awarded to a scientist(s) who have made the most important discoveries for the benefit of mankind.

There have been 107 Nobels awarded in Physiology or Medicine since the prizes were initiated in 1901. Altogether, 211 people have been awarded a Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine. The average age of those receiving the Nobel is 58 while the youngest was Frederick Banting at 32 in 1923 for his work on insulin, and the oldest, at 87, was Peyton Rous in 1966. Only 12 women have received this Nobel. Over half the women receiving this Nobel were honored in the past 20 years. Arguably, Nobel winners belong to one of the world’s most exclusive clubs.

This year for 2016, the Nobel in Physiology or Medicine was awarded to Yoshinori Ohsumi for his discoveries of the mechanisms of autophagy. Dr. Ohsumi spent time at Rockefeller University, but the major part of his career was at the University of Tokyo and at his current position at the Tokyo Institute of Technology. Autophagy is a fundamental process used by cells to first degrade and then re-use cell components — sort of a cellular recycling service. Autophagy can be simply translated as “self-eating.” Dr. Ohsumi performed his seminal experiments in yeast cells, defining the mechanisms for this process and the genes involved. He then helped show that similar molecular machinery exists in human cells. Without this efficient recycling process, our cells would not function properly and life itself would be compromised.

In Chemistry, 108 Nobels have been awarded since 1901. Only four women have received this prize. Frederick Sanger has the distinction of receiving two awards — one in 1958 and then again in 1980. In addition to the Nobel medallion, winners received or share a monetary award of about $900,000.

In 2016, The Nobel Prize in chemistry 2016 was awarded to three scientists, Jean-Pierre Sauvage at the University of Strasbourg, France, Sir J. Fraser Stoddart, from Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., and Bernard L. Feringa of the University of Groningen, in the Netherlands. They received their Nobel for their work to design and synthesize molecular “machines.” Dr. Sauvage developed interlocking ring shaped molecules where one ring could rotate freely — sort of like an axle and wheel at a molecular level. Dr. Feringa was fascinated by the concept of producing molecules and materials that never existed before. He produced a molecular motor that resembled a four-wheel drive nanocar whose wheels rotated at 12 million revolutions per second. The future potential of this new technology is incredible. Some compare the state of this technology to what the potential of the first electric motors were in the 1830s. Obviously, we will see some incredible developments of this technology in our lifetime and beyond.

We celebrate these 2016 Nobel winners and the prospects of even more incredible discoveries and innovations in the future.

Medical Discovery News is a weekly radio and print broadcast highlighting medical and scientific breakthroughs hosted by professor emeritus, Norbert Herzog, and professor, David Niesel, biomedical scientists at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. Learn more at www.medicaldiscoverynews.com.