Israelis have won Nobel Prizes in chemistry and economics, as well as the non-science Nobel Literature and Peace prizes. So far, though no Israeli has won the prizes for physics or medicine.
That could change on Monday, when the Nobel Prize for Medicine is announced. Thomson-Reuters, which runs the Reuters news service, but also provides consulting services to many businesses, has tapped two Israeli scientists as likely winners of the Nobel Prize in Physiology of Medicine for 2013. Professors Howard Cedar and Aharon Razin of Hebrew University, along with Professor Adrian Bird of the University of Edinburgh, could win the prize for their work in DNA methylation and gene expression.
The research conducted by the three over several years involves manipulating DNA molecules in order to activate or deactivate genes. As individuals get older, genetic information in cells can get corrupted, causing diseases and other problems. By learning how to manipulate the genes, doctors may be able to stem the onset of diseases like cancer, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
Cedar, 70, was born in the US, and joined Hebrew University in 1973, serving as a professor of the Department for Biochemistry and Genetics of Human Cell and Chairperson of the Department for Developmental Biology & Cancer Research, The Institute for Medical Research, Israel-Canada (IMRIC). In 1989, he won the Israel Prize for Biology, and in 2008, he, along with Razin, was awarded the Wolf Prize in Medicine. Among his six children is the film director Joseph Cedar.
Razin, 78, is a Professor of Biochemistry at Hebrew University, and is considered one of the world’s premier researchers in the area. In 2004, he won the Israel Prize for Biochemistry, going on to receive the Wolf Prize in Medicine, along with Cedar, in 2008. In 2011, the two also received the Canada Gairdner Award from the Gairdner Foundation for their “pioneering discoveries on DNA methylation and its role in gene expression,” the Foundation said.
The Nobel Committee is notoriously secretive about the awards, and even the nominees, but according to Thomson-Reuters, there is another team that could also win the prize: Daniel J. Klionsky of the University of Michigan, Noboru Mizushima of University of Tokyo, and Yoshinori Ohsumi of Tokyo Institute of Technology could be awarded the prize for their research in autophagy, the process of cell degradation. Also in the running is of UCLA, for his work in cancer research.
It should be noted that Thompson-Reuters has accurately predicted the names of all the Nobel winners in chemistry, physics, medicine and economics ever since it started predicting in 2002. According to the company, it bases its guesses on data mining of scientific research citations, an indication of the most important scientific achievements. “Scientific research citations function as a repayment of an intellectual debt,” said Gordon Macomber, managing director, Thomson Reuters Scholarly & Scientific Research. “By analyzing these citations in aggregate over many years, we are able to identify individual researchers and institutions that have the greatest impact on their fields of study and, as a result, are most likely to capture the attention of the Nobel jury.”