On October 7, biologist James E. Rothman received the 2013 Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine together with colleagues Randy W. Schekman and Thomas C. Südhof. Rothman is a professor of biomedical sciences at Yale. Over the last decade he has served as a senior advisor to GE Global Research in Niskayuna, NY. He is also a former chief scientist at GE Healthcare. GE Reports managing editor Tomas Kellner talked to Rothman last week about his discovery, innovation, and GE.
Could it be that venom is just what we need to heal what ails us?
With the still unfolding news of 1,600 injuries and 42 deaths inflicted so far in China by the Asian giant hornet’s sting, it might seem ridiculous to suggest that there’s an upside to the dangerous cocktail of toxins injected by thousands of creatures around the world.
Yet just when the bad news about the hornets’ deadly collision with humanity broke, another announcement emerged from the scientific community. Chinese and Australian researchers reported in the journal Nature that they had found a compound in the Chinese red-headed centipede’s venom that is a more potent painkiller than morphine and carries no addiction risk.
Such a discovery might appear to be an anomaly, an accidental kindness from the debilitating and sometimes lethal world of animal poisons. But those engaged in the burgeoning field of venom-based therapeutics development called venomics say that it’s no accident.
The 2013 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine has been awarded to three cell biologists, two American cell biologists and a German biochemist, for “machinery regulating vascular traffic, a major transport system in our cells.”
The prize goes jointly to James Rothman, from Yale University, Randy Shekman from the University of California, Berkeley, and Thomas C. Südhof from Stanford University, for developing the molecular principles behind the way the cargo within cells are delivered to target areas at the right time, based on genetic and molecular machinery housed within small bubbles within cells, called vesicles. This fundamental process occurs in all cells and has implication for diseases such as diabetes and neurological disorders.
The three men worked independently over the years, but their work overlapped and synchronized into a view of the cell’s transportation system, a kind of cellular FedEx, which can transport molecules around inside a cell or deliver them to the outside efficiently and correctly. The cargo has to be delivered to the right place at the right time or the result is chaos.