Two teams of scientists, one within the US and the opposite in Japan, have won a joint prize for his or her research unravelling the principal causes of the chronic sleep problem narcolepsy.
The researchers, Emmanuel Mignot from the Stanford University School of Medicine and Masashi Yanagisawa from the University of Tsukuba, won the distinguished Breakthrough Prize for Life Science 2023 for locating that narcolepsy is a neurodegenerative disease.
Running separate labs, the 2 led teams of scientists pursuing different research programmes that converged on a latest understanding of the genetic causes of narcolepsy.
They found that the protein orexin which regulates wakefulness – also called hypocretin – plays a serious role within the chronic sleep problem.
The 2 labs unravelled that narcolepsy is triggered in humans by the immune system attacking cells that produce orexin likely “mistaking” it for a viral particle, and their findings have led to treatments that would relieve symptoms of the disease.
The award-winning studies also make clear a central mechanism behind sleep and waking, and have enabled the design of sleep-inducing drugs, researchers say.
The awards were each price $3 million and its sponsors included philanthropists Sergey Brin, Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg, Julia and Yuri Milner, and Anne Wojcicki.
Google’s Deepmind researchers Demis Hassabis and John Jumper also won the award within the Life Sciences category for developing the unreal intelligence system AlphaFold 2 that rapidly and accurately predicts the 3D structure of proteins.
Earlier this 12 months, the AI uploaded the structures of 200 million proteins, which is almost every known protein from across the tree of life, to a public database.
The AI reduces the time spent by scientists to find out protein structure from months or years to hours or minutes, posing an immense potential for application in drug development, synthetic biology, and in understanding diseases.
Researchers who discovered a wholly latest form of interaction in cells between proteins and other biomolecules within the absence of membranes were also awarded the Breakthrough Prize within the Life Sciences category.
They found that membraneless liquid-like droplets in cells – just like oil droplets forming in water – play a job in quite a few processes inside cells including regulation of DNA and cell division.
The findings have clinical applications and will result in advances within the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases akin to ALS, scientists say.
In Mathematics, Daniel A Spielman won the award for multiple discoveries in theoretical computer science and arithmetic, and in Physics the Breakthrough Prize was shared by Charles H Bennett, Gilles Brassard, David Deutsch and Peter Shor for his or her work in quantum information.