Hannah Devlin and Ian Sample “Yoshinori Ohsumi wins Nobel prize in medicine for work on autophagy” https://www.theguardian.com/science/2016/oct/03/yoshinori-ohsumi-wins-nobel-prize-in-medicine
Autophagy is the body’s internal recycling programme - scrap cell components are captured and the useful parts are stripped out to generate energy or build new cells. The process is crucial for preventing cancerous growths, warding off infection and, by maintaining a healthy metabolism, it helps protect against conditions like diabetes.
Dysfunctional autophagy has been linked to Parkinson’s disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer and a host of age-related disorders. Intense research is underway to develop drugs that can target autophagy to treat various diseases.
The word autophagy originates from two Greek words meaning “self-eating”. It refers to the process in which cellular junk is captured and sealed in sack-like membranes, called autophagosomes. The sealed contents are transported to another structure called the lysosome, once considered little more than the cellular rubbish bin.
By studying the process in yeast cells, Ohsumi identified the main genes involved in autophagy and showed how the proteins they code for come together to build the autophagosome membrane. He later showed that a similar cellular recycling process occurs in human cells - and that our cells would not survive without it.