Over the past decades, human understanding of our body and how they function has evolved. On Monday 3rd of October 2016, a Tokyo-based cell biologist Yoshinori Ohsumi received the 2016 Nobel in medicine for his brilliant research and uncovering mechanisms for Cell Recycling_ a body defensive process involving the degradation and recycling of cells parts, a process also known as autophagy. The scientist believes this discovery and understanding can be a game changer in the treatment of cells attacking diseases such as cancer, dementia, Type 2 diabetes and numerous other devastating diseases.
What is Cell Recycling?
Cell Recycling is the process of orderly breaking down of old cells,removing the damaged proteins and worn-out organelles and recycling the useful parts of the old cells to create new once. This process is also known as Autophagy process which literarily means literally means “ self -eating ” in Greek.
The Cell Recycling in a simple sense means_ body destroying its own cell to create new once, this is not as bad as it sound, but on the contrary, it’s a crucial fundamental process in cell physiology so much that Dysfunctional autophagy process may have major implications for human health and disease.
The concept of autophagy was first observed during the 1960s but it was difficult to study the phenomenon, therefore only little was known about Cell Recycling until Dr Yoshinori Ohsumi began studying the autophagy by experimenting with baker's yeast in the 90s.
Dr Yoshinori Ohsumi started studying waste-elimination and cellular renewal in the 80s and then switched to autophagy in mammals by using yeast to identify the genes essential for autophagy and discover that similarly sophisticated machinery is used in human cells.
Cell Recycling as Medical Treatment
The study of Cell Recycling and how autophagy works in our body system are believed to be the key element to treating numerous devastating diseases including cancer and diabetes. According to research carried out by cell biologist, too much cell recycling in the body can lead to cancer by promoting the growth of tumor cells in cancer and also cause resistance to cancer treatments. On the flip side, if this autophagy fails or cell recycling in the body is not enough, it can speed up cell aging which can result in the development of cellular trash that might cause neurological diseases and other diseases associated with aging such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and dementia.
Although, cell recycling is a natural defense metabolism our body use to survive. The process involves capturing cellular junk and sealing it in a sack-like membrane, called autophagosomes. The sealed cellular junk is then transported to the lysosome which then worn-out organelles and clusters of damaged proteins then the useful cell parts are stripped out to build new cells or generate energy.
Thanks to Dr Ohsumi's work and discovery, scientist now have insight into what goes wrong in a range of illnesses and the possible ways of tacking it. Therefore, intense research is now ongoing to develop an autophagy targeting drugs to treat various diseases, including cancer and dementia.