The 2013 Nobel Prize for Medicine and Physiology

2013 Nobel Prize artOn October 7, 2013, in Stockholm, Sweden, the Nobel Committee announced the winners of the Nobel Prize for Medicine and Physiology – two Americans and one German, all now located at institutions in the US. The discovery for which these three investigators share the prize involves their work over three decades studying the transport, packaging and trafficking of cellular proteins.

All cells must communicate and maintain their identity. To do so cells have developed intricate systems whereby neurotransmitters, proteins, hormones, and other species are encapsulated in small vesicles. These vesicles may be utilized to extrude materials into the extracellular domain or may store materials within the cell for later use. Working in model systems including yeast cells, these investigators showed the intricacy of cellular physiology associated with micro-vesicular function.

What makes these investigators’ work so interesting is that it is principally the study of cellular physiology, or what we call cell biology. While many breakthroughs and observations today reflect discoveries at the level of DNA, RNA and the genome, these investigators have pioneered protein kinetics and physiology. What is so exciting about this Nobel Prize is that it returns attention to the intricacies of cellular function at the level of phenotype. Protein biology represents the final common pathway from blueprint (DNA) to function. While genes that are detected within the nucleus (the purview of genomic analyses and many recent Nobel prizes) may or may not ultimately be expressed, depending upon splice variants, DNA methylation, histone acetylation, small interfering RNAs and non-coding DNAs among other phenomena, functional proteins are the active end-product and do very much exist.

We now recognize that cellular signaling, misfolded protein response, autophagy and apoptotic responses are tightly bound together. Among the most toxic phenomena for a cell is the misfolded protein signal, a signal that occurs far from the gene. This represents the target of the newest classes of drugs known as proteasome inhibitors and heat shock protein inhibitors, which function within the cytoplasm, not the nucleus.

It is exciting to imagine a day when physiologist, biochemist, enzymologist, physical chemist, and protein chemist regain their position as leaders in cancer research.

N.B: It should not go unmentioned that the EVA-PCD® assay offered by Rational Therapeutics is based on cellular function.

About Dr. Robert A. Nagourney
Dr. Nagourney received his undergraduate degree in chemistry from Boston University and his doctor of medicine at McGill University in Montreal, where he was a University Scholar. After a residency in internal medicine at the University of California, Irvine, he went on to complete fellowship training in medical oncology at Georgetown University, as well as in hematology at the Scripps Institute in La Jolla. During his fellowship at Georgetown University, Dr. Nagourney confronted aggressive malignancies for which the standard therapies remained mostly ineffective. No matter what he did, all of his patients died. While he found this “standard of care” to be unacceptable, it inspired him to return to the laboratory where he eventually developed “personalized cancer therapy.” In 1986, Dr. Nagourney, along with colleague Larry Weisenthal, MD, PhD, received a Phase I grant from a federally funded program and launched Oncotech, Inc. They began conducting experiments to prove that human tumors resistant to chemotherapeutics could be re-sensitized by pre-incubation with calcium channel blockers, glutathione depletors and protein kinase C inhibitors. The original research was a success. Oncotech grew with financial backing from investors who ultimately changed the direction of the company’s research. The changes proved untenable to Dr. Nagourney and in 1991, he left the company he co-founded. He then returned to the laboratory, and developed the Ex-vivo Analysis - Programmed Cell Death ® (EVA-PCD) test to identify the treatments that would induce programmed cell death, or “apoptosis.” He soon took a position as Director of Experimental Therapeutics at the Cancer Institute of Long Beach Memorial Medical Center. His primary research project during this time was chronic lymphocytic leukemia. He remained in this position until the basic research program funding was cut, at which time he founded Rational Therapeutics in 1995. It is here where the EVA-PCD test is used to identity the drug, combinations of drugs or targeted therapies that will kill a patient's tumor - thus providing patients with truly personalized cancer treatment plans. With the desire to change how cancer care is delivered, he became Medical Director of the Todd Cancer Institute at Long Beach Memorial in 2003. In 2008, he returned to Rational Therapeutics full time to rededicate his time and expertise to expand the research opportunities available through the laboratory. He is a frequently invited lecturer for numerous professional organizations and universities, and has served as a reviewer and on the editorial boards of several journals including Clinical Cancer Research, British Journal of Cancer, Gynecologic Oncology, Cancer Research and the Journal of Medicinal Food.

One Response to The 2013 Nobel Prize for Medicine and Physiology

  1. hphblog1 says:

    Reblogged this on Hope Practiced Here and commented:
    Did you know that the EVA-PCD® assay offered by Rational Therapeutics is based on cellular function?

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