Nobel Prize Medicine winners 2014

John O’Keefe and Norwegian couple May-Britt and Edvard Moser have won the 2014 Nobel Prize for medicine for their work which has led to discovering the brain’s internal positioning system.

About Nobel Prize in Medicine

The Nobel award for medicine is given to persons whose discoveries have significantly enhanced the understanding of life or the practice of medicine.  The Nobel comes with prize money of 8 mn Swedish kroner or $1.1 mn. The winner is chosen by the Nobel Assembly at the Karolinska Institute which is a group of 50 professors which has an 18 member working body that evaluates nominations from scientists around the world and proposes the names of top candidates for the award. The Nobel Prize for medicine is always announced before the Nobel Prize for other categories. The Nobel Assembly, made the  announcement at Sweden’s Karolinska Institute saying that the discovery had provided a solution to an issue that has plagued the mind of researchers and philosopher alike for centuries : “How does the brain create a map of the space surrounding us and how can we navigate our way through a complex environment?”

2014 Nobel Prize Medicine Winners

John O’Keefe

ScreenClip[21]John O’Keefe is a 74 yr old American-British Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at University College in  London.

In 1971, Dr. O’Keefe was studying the hippocampus, when during an experiment on rats he discovered that certain nerve cells got activated when the rat was in a particular spot. If the rat changed its place, then different nerve cells in the rat’s brain got activated. This led to his conclusion that the cells weren’t just registering the location but they appeared to be making circuits that constituted an inner map or ‘GPS’ of the place. He realized that the hippocampus was a spatial system where the memory of a certain place gets stored a particular combination of the nerve cells.

May-Britt and Edvard Moser

ScreenClip[25]May-Britt Moser aged 51 and Edvard Moser aged 52 are a married team of neuroscientists working at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim.

In 2005, the Mosers’ worked with O’Keefe to further his work. They conducted similar experiments on rats, where they discovered that nerve cells in entorhinal cortex which is near the hippocampus got activated when the animals passed certain places. These nerve cells together laid out a grid like pattern enabling the rat to navigate spatially.

Research

Before the work done by these three scientists, we didn’t have a sense of how the brain processed maps at a cellular level. Their work helps researchers delve deeper into how strokes and Alzheimer’s affect the brain, with the help of their inner navigational chart.

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Categories: Awards Current Affairs 2017

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