i-37d58446840f6aec692e3a9bf6cd5c28-Nobel_Prize-thumb-300x300-69628.jpgThe prize went to Bruce Beutler, Jules Hoffmann, and Ralph Steinman for their work on the immune system.

Beutler and Hoffmann’s work enhanced our understanding of the activation of innate immunity in humans. In other words, the link between cytokine and swelling and related issues. Among other things, this work resulted in the development of Etanercept, a treatment for Psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, and Crohn’s disease.

Steinman discovered dendritic cells and the role they play in adaptive immunity. These are part of the mammalian immune system. They mediate between antigens (molecular clues carried by invading or unwanted objects such as bacteria) and other immune system cells. Among other things, this is part of the process that ultimately causes your lymph nodes to swell up.

So the whole Nobel Thing this year as all about swelling up!

Comments

  1. #1 Paul Browne
    October 3, 2011

    They certainly were well deserved Nobel prizes, though it is a real shame that Ralph Steinman never learned about his award before his death last Friday.

    I expect – and hope – that the Nobel committee will allow his prize to stand. It was bad enough that Min Cheuh Chang* and Patrick Steptoe missed out on last years award for IVF because of the two decade delay in recognizing their achievements, but for Ralph Steinman to miss out on this years would be too cruel.

    * Of course Min Cheuh Chang should also have received a Nobel for his role in the development of the oral contraceptive pill with Gregory Pincus, I doubt there are many medical breakthroughs which have such a profound effect on society.

  2. #2 flylady
    October 3, 2011

    “Beutler and Hoffmann worked on the activation of innate immunity in humans.”

    Hardly. Beutler’s work for which he was awarded was in mice. Hoffman’s was in the fly. The importance is in the impact that this work later had on humans. This should highlight the fact that supporting basic research in model systems (animal, insect or any lower organism) is vital to advancing science and medicine.

  3. #3 Greg Laden
    October 3, 2011

    That is correct. I’m sure that if this work only advanced our understanding of how flies swell up he would have still gotten the Nobel prize for medicine. Thanks for the correction. Sort of how my wife works on human heart disease, aging, and muscular distrophy but only touches mice and rabbits and the occasional fungus.

    And Beutler never wrote a paper called “Shock and tissue injury induced by recombinant human cachectin” and Hoffmann never wrote any comparative papers or noted anything about human in his research.

    Oh, and all those people doing medical research related to human diseases, they are all using human models, no rodents, lagomorphs, or flies. Ever.

    But OK, snark aside, there is nothing wrong with noting that scientists use animal models in their research and that is ACTUALLY what they are working on.

    But don’t ever start a paragraph like that one with the word “hardly” because is is absolutely not true that they give the Nobel Prize for medicine to people who’s work is hardly related to human medicine. Or at least, hardly ever.

  4. #4 Paul Browne
    October 4, 2011

    Good point Flylady, and one I also made in a post yesterday on the Speaking of Research Blog.

    http://speakingofresearch.com/2011/10/03/nobel-prize-2011-flies-and-mice-take-a-bow/

    Greg, Flylady is making essentially the same point you are, she certainly wasn’t disputing the fact that the discoveries of Beutler and Hoffmann are relevant to human medicine. That both Hoffmann and Beutler have (along with many other scientists) followed up their initial discoveries with a lot of research in both humans and animal models does not alter the fact that the discoveries they are being honored for were made in studies of flies and mice.

  5. #5 Greg Laden
    October 4, 2011

    Paul, I don’t think so. The importance of their research in relation to the development of human medicine is extraordinary. That is why they got the Nobel Prize for medicine. That they did their research with animal models makes them ordinary. The contribution of their research to non human areas is also extraordinary, but they didn’t get the Nobel Prize for medicine for that.

    And good for them and good for all of us.

    In your post you note:

    This year’s Nobel Prizes once again recognize the value of basic biomedical research in stimulating medical advances, and once more highlight the crucial role played by animal research in making the Nobel-winning discoveries possible.

    Very true, good point.

  6. #6 Paul Browne
    October 4, 2011

    OK, I absolutely agree that the reason they got the prize was the importance of their discoveries to medicine. Didn’t mean to imply otherwise.

  7. #7 Mike Haubrich
    October 5, 2011

    The Nobel Committee has decided that they will not rescind Steinman’s prize, granting a rare posthumous award.

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