Blobel Gets Nobel For Medicine

Dr. Guenter Blobel of The Rockefeller University in New York won the Nobel Prize for medicine Monday for protein research that shed new light on diseases including cystic fibrosis and early development of kidney stones.

Blobel, 63, a native of Germany who became a U.S. citizen in the 1980s, was cited for discovering that proteins carry signals that act as postal codes, helping them find their correct locations within the cell.
Some hereditary diseases are caused by errors in these signals and the associated transport mechanisms, the Nobel Assembly said in announcing the prize. The work has helped scientists use cells in laboratories to churn out drugs, and has had an "immense impact" on studies of the cell, the assembly said.

Blobel said he initially thought the call from Stockholm telling him he had won was a prank.

"I'm very excited," Blobel said at a news conference in New York, where he lives with his wife.

Blobel displays photos of the German city Dresden at a press conference at Rockefeller University.

Blobel, a founder of Friends of Dresden, a group that helps collect money for the German city, said he would use the $960,000 prize to help pay for the restoration of Dresden's famed Frauenkirche church, which was destroyed during World War II, as well as to fund restoration of a Dresden synagogue.

Blobel was born in the town of Waltersdorf, Silesia, in present-day Poland, in 1936. His family moved to Freiberg, in Germany's eastern Saxony state, after World War II.

Because his family was relatively well off and did not conform to communist ideals, Blobel was not allowed to continue his studies in former East Germany and he left for West Germany. The rest of the family followed shortly thereafter.

The 1999 prize announcement said his work had several implications.

Blobel in his lab at Rockefeller University

Â"One example is the hereditary disease primary hyperoxaluria, which causes kidney stones at an early age. In some forms of familial hypercholesterolemia, a very high level of cholesterol in the blood is due to deficient transport signals. Other hereditary diseases, e.g., cystic fibrosis, are caued by the fact that proteins do not reach their proper destination.Â"

Blobel, a cellular and molecular biologist, discovered in the early 1970s that newly synthesized proteins have an intrinsic signal that is essential for directing them.

Â"During the next 20 years Blobel characterized in detail the molecular mechanisms underlying these processes. He also showed that similar 'address tags' or 'zip codes' direct proteins to other intracellular organelles (compartments within a cell),Â" the Academy said.

Winners of the Nobel Prize in physics and chemistry are to be announced Tuesday, followed by economics Wednesday and the peace prize Friday. All the prize announcements are in Stockholm, except for the peace prize, which is announced in Oslo, Norway.

King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden will present the literature, science and economic prizes, this year worth $960,000, on Dec. 10, the anniversary of Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel's death in 1896. The peace prize will be presented on the same day in Oslo.

The science awards tend to be for breakthroughs that often pave the way for major advances in fighting disease and poverty.

The academy, founded in 1786, has 18 members, although one spot is vacant and three members don't participate. Academy members, former recipients and a select group of literature and language professors and specialists in the field may suggest candidates.

The prizes are funded by a trust set up in Nobel's will.

By Susanna Loof
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