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Jeffrey Hall, Michael Rosbash & Michael Young Win Nobel Medicine Prize

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Three Americans — Jeffrey C. Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael W. Young — have won the 2017 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine for their work on molecular mechanisms that control circadian systems.

 

Hall was born in New York, Rosbash in Kansas City, and they both worked at Brandeis. Michael Young was born in Miami and worked at Rockefeller University.

In announcing the winner in Stockholm on Monday, the prize committee said the men elucidated how a life-form’s “inner clock” can fluctuate to optimize our behavior and physiology. “Their discoveries explain how plants, animals and humans adapt their biological rhythm so that it is synchronized with the Earth’s revolutions.”

Working with fruit flies, the scientists isolated a gene that is responsible for a protein that accumulates in the night but is degraded in the day. Misalignments in this clock may result in medical conditions and disorders, as well as the temporary disorientation of jet lag that travelers experience when crisscrossing time zones.

This year’s winners probably weren’t in a lot of Nobel Prize betting pools, because the medicine Nobel is notoriously hard to predict. Perhaps because the highly secretive Nobel committee does not release a list those under consideration and never has in its 116-year history, the names being thrown around as deserving of the prize in the weeks before the announcement is always very long and highly speculative. But it’s worth looking at the ones named by David Pendlebury, formerly of Thompson Reuters and now with Clarivate Analytics, who bases his picks on an extensive data analysis and has an impressive track record of correctly picking numerous Nobel Laureates over the past 15 years (although not always in the right year).

For 2017, he identified as possible winners Yuan Chang and Patrick Moore of the University of Pittsburgh for their work with human herpesvirus 8 (KSHV/HHV8) which is associated with cancer; Lewis Cantley of Weill Cornell of Medicine for the discovery of a cell signaling pathway and its role in tumor growth; and Karl J. Friston of the University College London for his work on algorithms and techniques for the analysis of brain imaging data.

In recent years, the Nobel in medicine has been awarded for breakthroughs in a diverse range of work in human biology: a Japanese scientist who discovered a key mechanism in our body’s defense system that involves recycling parts of cells and plays an important role in cancer; a trio who worked on treatments for river blindness and malaria; and researchers who deciphered the brain’s “GPS” that allows us to orient ourselves in space.

The Nobel Prize in physics will be announced on Tuesday, the chemistry award on Wednesday, and the peace prize on Friday. An award in economics in memory of Alfred Nobel (which is not one of the original Nobel Prizes) will be announced Monday, and the date of the literature Nobel will be announced soon.

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