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Nobel prize goes to scientists who unraveled cell transport system

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Nobel Medicine Prize
Nobel Medicine Prize

A trio of scientists have been awarded the 2013 Nobel Prize in medicine, thanks to a series of groundbreaking discoveries that explain how some materials are transported inside of cells. The findings are credited with charting the course of modern research in cellular biology.

The $1.2 million award was today handed out to a trio of researchers: James Rothman, Thomas Sudhof, and Randy Shekman are responsible for an array of findings (some dating back to the 1970s) that explain how small packages called vesicles organize and deliver substances like hormones, enzymes, or neurotransmitters both within and outside of cells.

"Imagine hundreds of thousands of people who are traveling around hundreds of miles of streets; how are they going to find the right way? Where will the bus stop and open its doors so that people can get out?" Nobel committee secretary Goran Hansson told reporters. "There are similar problems in the cell."

Schekman was behind the first set of discoveries. In the 1970s, he used a yeast model to identify which genes were at play when vesicles failed to perform their dedicated function. Rothman, in turn, identified a specific set of proteins that allow vesicles to "dock" with targeted membranes — essentially ensuring that substances are precisely delivered to the right location. Finally, Sudhof studied neurotransmitters to unravel how the materials carried by a vesicle are released at the right time.

Allow for the creation of new treatments

Experts now know that defects in this precise vesicle transport system occur in myriad illnesses, including diabetes and schizophrenia. Already, scientists have used the findings to improve the diagnosis of several conditions, and targeting the transport system might also allow for the creation of new treatments.