An idea first brought to the attention of the world back in the 1960’s when researchers first noted that the cell could destroy its own contents by a matter of enclosure within the membrane. (1) This lead to the formation of vesicles that were efficiently transported to a recycling component called the lysosome, for degradation. The term autophagy simply means "self-eating”. Scientifically, the term accounts for “a normal physiological process that deals with the destruction of cells in the body”. (2) Due to the complexity of the phenomenon, little advances had been made until a series of experiments were conducted in the early 1990’s. Yoshinori Ohsumi; a Japanese cell biologist born in 1945, conducted an experiment using the test subject of yeast, which led him to identify the critical genes for autophagy. Through further studies, he noted the underlying correlation between autophagy mechanisms used in yeast and the machinery used in our cells. Ohsumi’s new discoveries created the path in understanding the critical importance of autophagy in many physiological processes and its direct correlation to disease. (1)
In 1988, Yoshinori Ohsumi focused the majority of his time on understanding the machinery behind protein degradation in the vacuole, an organelle that corresponds to the study of the lysosome in human cells. The reason Ohsumi choose yeast cells as the subject for his studies were due to the fact they are fairly easy to study and are often used interchangeably to replicate for human cells. (1)
Consequently, Ohsumi undertook several challenges throughout his studies due to the indistinguishable yeast cell under the mi...
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... used for cell survival. “As shown in preclinical models, inhibition of autophagy restored chemosensitivity and enhanced tumor cell death.” (7)
The use of targeting autophagy in cancer will provide new opportunities for drug development, because more potent and specific inhibitors of autophagy are needed. The role of autophagy and its regulation in cancer cells continues to emerge, and studies aim to define optimal strategies to modulate autophagy for therapeutic advantage.
To conclude, Yoshinori Ohsumi’s passion for cellular biology and dedication in understanding the mechanisms behind the process of autophagy made him well deserving for the nobel prize in medicine. Since his discovery, numerous studies have been conducted furthering the knowledge on the central concept and have led to many advancements in disease and physiological processes since his discovery.
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