10 Nobel Prize Winners Who Have Made an Impact on Healthcare

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The Nobel Prize Committee presents awards for outstanding accomplishments in chemistry, economics, literature, medicine, peace, and physics. To oversee the process, the Norwegian Parliament, called the Sorting or the Great Assembly, selects five members to sit on the Norwegian Nobel Committee that selects nominees to receive honors as Nobel Laureates. For consideration, award candidates must receive recommendations from a valid Nobel Foundation nominator including, but not limited to:

• Active or retired Norwegian Nobel Committee members
• Active or retired professors
• Board directors of Nobel Prize nominated organizations
• Government officials
• Past Nobel Prize awardees
• Past Norwegian Nobel Committee advisors

Unless Nobel Foundation statutes declare otherwise, nominators must actively hold qualified posts.

Each October, the committee presents the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo and the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, Economics, Literature, Medicine, Physics, and Physiology or Medicine in Sweden. The following 10 remarkable individuals encompass a few Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine awardees.

1. Ronald Ross (1902)

One time military medical officer Ronald Ross started his work in West Africa to find a malaria cure in 1899. [1] The disease occurs commonly in the tropics and causes high fever along with other conditions. Because researchers found malaria only in human bloodstreams, the medical community theorized that mosquitoes spread the disease. In 1897, Ross’s work with the insects confirmed this fact.

2. Emil Theodore Kocher (1909)

An abnormal enlargement of the thyroid gland, called a goiter, can cause breathing difficulty and destroy the gland. [2] In the late 1800’s physicians placed patients at considerable risk when attempting to remove the growths.

Kocher explained the functioning of the gland and its relation to metabolism and showed how hygiene improves surgical safety and reduces blood loss. Most importantly, Kocher’s work showed that physicians must leave an important part of the gland in place during surgery.

3. Frederick Grant Banting & John James Rickard Macleod (1923)

In 1921, Banting conducted research with Macleod, along with Charles Best, to prove that a substance called trypsin degraded the body’s natural insulin production. [3] In their experiments, the researchers stopped trypsin production in dogs, allowing them to extract insulin for treating diabetes sufferers.

4. Karl Landsteiner (1930)

In the early 1900’s, blood transfusions were typically unsuccessful. [4] Landsteiner discovered that people have distinct blood types and that clotting occurs when different blood types mix. Landsteiner’s work led to blood type matching and increased positive transfusion outcomes.

5. Thomas Hunt Morgan (1933)

Thomas Morgan earned a Ph. D. in zoology in 1890, after which he accepted a post the Naples Marine Laboratory. [5] His award-winning career started in 1910 with the discovery of white-eyed mutations in Drosophila (fruit flies). His work laid the foundation for experimental research.

6. Sir Alexander Fleming, Ernst Boris Chain & Sir Howard Walter Florey (1945)

Alexander Fleming discovered that penicillin, a compound that inhibits bacteria growth, spawned from a specific mold. [6] Although penicillin proved notoriously unstable, Fleming and his peers were already considering its medicinal possibilities.

In the early 1940’s, along with Chain and Florey, Fleming succeeded in developing a standard technique to produce the compound. With additional research, pharmaceutical companies were able to produce penicillin in large quantities.

7. Joseph E. Murray & E. Donnall Thomas (1990)

Blood cells, which synthesize in bone marrow, protect the body from illnesses such as leukemia. In the mid-1950’s, [7] Donnall developed a technique to replenish bone marrow cells via blood transfusion. Around that same time, the ability to transfer organs from one patient to another eluded surgeons.

Murray developed a technique using radiotherapy and immunosuppressants to discourage the body’s tendency to reject donor organs. [8] Due to their discoveries, the researchers shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine that year.

8. Paul C. Lauterbur & Sir Peter Mansfield (2003)

Magnetic fields govern molecular movement. [9, 10] However, specific radio wave frequencies disrupt this natural characteristic. In the 1970’s, Lauterbur and Mansfield applied this knowledge to develop a technique to record images of interior human physiology.

The technique, which measures hydrogen atoms and water content variations, led to magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technology. The researchers shared the Nobel Prize for “discoveries concerning magnetic resonance imaging.”

9. Françoise Barré-Sinoussi, Luc Montagnier & Harald zur Hausen (2008)

Scientists define genomes that contain ribonucleic acid (RNA) that can enter host deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) as retroviruses. [11] Barré-Sinoussi and Montagnier discovered a retrovirus, later named Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) that caused Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS). This revelation led to improved treatments for those diagnosed with AIDS.

Genes prevent tumors by regulating cell division, a process that retroviruses can interrupt. [12] In 1983, Hausen demonstrated that the papilloma virus causes cervical cancer, which at the time represented the second most common cause for female tumors. During this award year, the Nobel Prize Committee split recognition with Hausen for “his discovery of human papilloma viruses causing cervical cancer” and Barré-Sinoussi and Montagnier for “their discovery of human immunodeficiency virus.”

10. Robert G. Edwards (2010)

Some couples experience fertility difficulties. In the late 1970’s Edwards developed the concept of removing female eggs and fertilizing them in test tubes. [13] With associates, he successfully developed a procedure to remove eggs from ovaries. The first in vitro fertilized birth took place in 1978.

The Nobel Prize embodies the crown jewel of a career. Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine winners produce life-changing innovations. Each achievement lays the foundation for future medical advancements. While it is impossible to plan a career around winning the Nobel Prize, leaving an outstanding legacy represents an achievement in itself.

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[1] Nobelprize.org – Ronald Ross
[2] Theodor Kocher
[3] Frederick G. Banting
[4] Karl Landsteiner
[5] Thomas Hunt Morgan
[6] Sir Howard Florey
[7] Joseph E. Murray
[8] E. Donnall Thomas
[9] Nobelprize.org – Paul C. Lauterbur
[10] Nobelprize.org – The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2003
[11] Nobelprize.org – Françoise Barré-Sinoussi
[12] Nobelprize.org – Harald zur Hausen
[13] Nobelprize.org – Robert G. Edwards