The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded to Japanese cell biologist, Yoshinori Ohsumi, 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 Mr. Ohsumi 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.
The Physiology or Medicine prize, the first of the Nobel prizes awarded each year, is worth 8 million Swedish crowns ($933,000). Mr. Ohsumi is a professor in Tokyo Institute of Technology's Frontier Research Centre.
Ohsumi's work was described by commentators as "paradigm-shifting" and "pioneering" - included locating the genes that regulate autophagy. This is important for medicine because it helps show why errors in these genes can contribute to a range of diseases.
David Rubinsztein, deputy director of Cambridge University's Institute for Medical Research, said, "Ohsumi had provided scientists around the world with 'critical tools' to help them understand how disrupted autophagy can contribute to illnesses including infectious diseases, cancers and neurodegenerative diseases such as Huntington's and Parkinson's."