Stockholm: Yoshinori Ohsumi, a Japanese cell biologist specialising in autophagy and a professor in Tokyo Institute of Technology's Frontier Research Centre, was on Monday awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his discoveries of the mechanism for autophagy, a process that deals with destruction of cells in the body.
The Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Institutet decided to award the prize to Ohsumi, 71, as his discoveries led to a new paradigm in the "understanding of how the cell recycles its content".
"His discoveries opened the path to understanding the fundamental importance of autophagy in many physiological processes, such as in the adaptation to starvation or response to infection," a statement on the official website of the Nobel Prize said.
Because of Japan's 23rd Nobel Laureate Ohsumi's works, it is now known that autophagy -- self eating -- controls important physiological functions where cellular components need to be degraded and recycled.
The concept emerged during the 1960s, when researchers first observed that the cell could destroy its own contents by enclosing it in membranes, forming sack-like vesicles that were transported to a recycling compartment, called the lysosome, for degradation.
Ohsumi reasoned that if he could disrupt the degradation process in the vacuole while the process of autophagy was active, then autophagosomes should accumulate within the vacuole and become visible under the microscope.