British antibody pioneer wins chemistry Nobel Prize

Do You Speak Differently of the Physics Nobel Prize If a Woman Wins It

Donna Strickland. Credit Youtube Optical Society

Arnold, who is the fifth woman ever to win a Nobel Prize in Chemistry, received half of the 9 million kr ($1.4 million) award, while Smith and Winter split the remainder.

"Directed evolution's revolution ... is bringing and will bring the greatest benefit to humankind", according to the statement by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.

One half of the nine million Swedish kronor (£770,686) prize will go to the American Frances Arnold from the California Institute of Technology, US.

The Guardian's Nicola Davis reports that Arnold's directed evolution of enzymes (proteins that catalyze, or accelerate, chemical reactions) essentially boils down to the introduction of genetic mutations that allow enzymes to perform more efficiently or in ways that they normally wouldn't.

Smith created a process that helped develop new drugs that are now being used to treat cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, and inflammatory bowel disease.

Meanwhile, the other two winners in chemistry - Greg Winter and George P Smith - who will share the other half of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, has been chosen due to their research on phage displays of peptides and antibodies. In addition, with the method called phage display, they have also evolved proteins with new binding properties, such as antibodies that can be used to treat disease.

This method has been used to create antibodies that can neutralize toxins such as that which causes anthrax and slows down an autoimmune disease called lupis, and even cure metastatic cancer.

Arnold's research can be used for health-related applications as well as industrial.

Immunologist Professor Dan Davies, from the University of Manchester, said: "This is thrilling. So if you can harness enzymes for your own purposes, this is often more environmentally friendly than using heavy metals or toxic substances to make your chemicals", said Johan Aqvist, a member of the Nobel Committee for Chemistry.

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Strickland, an associate professor who leads the ultrafast laser group at Waterloo, is the first Canadian woman to win the Nobel in physics and one of only three women in history to do so, including Marie Curie in 1903 and Maria Goeppert-Mayer in 1963. Smith is a professor emeritus of biological sciences at the University of Missouri.

Winter said he was surprised by the huge commercial success of antibody drugs, which he put down in large part to the high prices that drug companies have managed to charge for them.

He concludes, "Very few research breakthroughs are novel".

Earlier this week, two immunologists, James Allison of the United States and Tasuku Honjo of Japan, won the Nobel Medicine Prize for research into how the body's natural defences can fight cancer.

- James P. Allison and Tasuku Honjo were awarded the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine Monday for a discovery that the body's immune system can be used to attack cancer cells.

In the 1980s, Arnold tried to rebuild enzymes, but because they are very complex molecules built from different amino acids that can be infinitely combined, she found it hard to remodel the enzymes' genes in order to give them new properties. "Mine was an idea in a line of research that built very naturally on the lines of research that went before".

She spoke to Reuters after hearing that she had won the Nobel Prize.

The Nobel Prize in chemistry, which honors researchers for advances in studying how molecules combine and interact, is being announced Wednesday by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.

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