Researchers who discovered how genes regulate organ growth and the process of cell death--which shed light on the development of many illnesses, including AIDS--on Monday were awarded the Nobel Prize in medicine. Sydney Brenner, 75, and John Sulston, 60, both of the United Kingdom, shared the $1 million prize with an American, H. Robert Horvitz, 55.
Horvitz, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, identified two "cell death genes" in worms and showed that humans have a gene similar to one of them, the awards committee said. Cell death plays a large role in the destruction of the immune system in HIV-positive people. Previous studies have suggested that HIV manages to somehow speed up the body's natural process of cell apoptosis, causing immune system cells to die off faster than they can be replaced. The Nobel Prize winners isolated the human genes linked with cell apoptosis, prompting further research into precisely how HIV activates these genes and studies into possible treatments to prevent the genes from signaling the immune cells to self-destruct.
The award for medicine opened up a week of Nobel Prize award announcements that culminates Friday with the announcement of the prestigious Peace Prize. The awards will be officially presented December 10 in Sweden.