Autophagy wins the 2016 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine

Beth Levine

On October 3, 2016, the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded to Yoshinori Ohsumi for “discoveries of the mechanisms for autophagy.” Just a few weeks earlier, at an acceptance speech for the 2016 Paul Janssen Award, Yoshinori Ohsumi stated that although he performs research in a simple organism—baker’s yeast—he always hoped his research would have an impact upon human health. Indeed, Ohsumi’s discoveries, along with those of others working simultaneously on autophagy-related pathways in yeast, have provided a powerful molecular tool kit that thousands of scientists are now using worldwide to decipher the roles of autophagy in mammalian health and disease. The story of this year’s Nobel Prize represents a better-than-textbook example of why unbridled discovery in fundamental basic science is crucial for opening new frontiers in medicine.