The Last Five Years of the Nobel Prize in Medicine by Manel Esteler
way of recognition discoveries that are relevant to biomedicine is the awarding of prizes to the researchers involved in these discoveries. The Nobel Prize for Medicine in Physiology or Medicine is one of the most prestigious, but others like the Breakthrough Award or even the BBVA Foundation Award Frontiers of knowledge are also good indicators of outstanding performance in this area. For the Nobel Prizes, there are even “forecasters & rdquor; computer scientists who calculate the statistical probability of winning it. This week the winner of the Nobel Prize in Biomedical Sciences was announced and I would like to briefly recap the trajectory of the last five concessions to explain a little about the trends in this area.
In 2018, the winners were Tasuku Honjo and James P. Allison for their discoveries about the role of the immune system in the regulation of cancer. These researchers not only made a crucial contribution to the characterization of the biomolecules (receptors and ligands) involved in our body’s defense against foreign agents (foreign to us microorganisms and cells), but their data are decisive for the introduction of immunotherapy as a typical cancer treatment in hospitals. What is really important are the clinical responses seen in melanoma and lung cancer, and we are now looking to extend them to many other tumor types. And not only by using drugs, but also by redirecting and modifying our immune cells so that they effectively recognize and attack the transformed cells.
In 2019, the winners were William G. Kaelin Jr., Peter J. Ratcliffe and Greg L. Semenza for their discoveries about how cells sense and adapt to the presence of oxygen. Its results have enormous implications not only for understand oxygen metabolism in health and disease, but also how we can use it in new therapies. It is the HIF protein that controls these processes, and hypoxia (lack of oxygen) processes occur in many carcinogenic stages. One way to attack a tumor, which is to cut off its oxygen support by blocking the arrival of new blood vessels, is what anti-angiogenic drugs do, which also have great applicability. avoiding vascular proliferations in the eye which may be associated with blindness.
In 2020, the winners were Harvey James, Michael Houghton, and Charles M. Rice for the discovery of the hepatitis C virus. Viruses are creatures of great evolutionary success; when we turn them off, they will continue here. In terms of human disease, they are causing multiple pathologies (from polio to covid) and there are viruses with a particular appetite for the liver, as is the case with hepatitis A, B and C viruses. Vaccines are effective in the first two cases, but for hepatitis C it is in recent years there is a curative treatment for the infected. It happened relatively recently and probably didn’t get the media attention it deserved.
In 2021, the award went to David Julius and Ardem Pataputian for the detection of touch and temperature receptors. Perhaps until last year, this was the discovery most often referred to as “basic research & rdquor ;, i.e. without clear practical application. But many cures have been derived from this type of science in other cases, so we will certainly see it in this case as well. From families with genetic changes in these receptors to ways for human beings to adapt to harsh or extreme environments, or therapies related to these stimuli.
And finally, this year 2022 the winner is Svante Pääbo for his discoveries on the genomes of extinct hominins and human evolution. This scientist was almost the creator of a new discipline, paleogenomics, and his data tells us that modern humans we have inserted fragments of other human species that preceded us and these were extensively studied by your group.
Hopefully this type of award motivates our young people to have more scientific vocations, but don’t forget this what matters is knowledge, not recognition. We need this new generation of researchers and we need to give them the opportunity to have the right tools to do their work.