All eyes are on the Nobel prizes in science next week. Here’s what to expect

While it’s hard to predict who will win a Nobel Prize – the shortlist is secret, as are the nominators, and the documents revealing the juicy details are sealed in public view for 50 years, here are some worthy nominees. Nobel Prize winners and the life-changing discoveries they made.

The Lasker Awards and Breakthrough Prizes (the latter founded by Sergey Brin, Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg), often considered precursors of a Nobel Prize, were awarded in 2021 to scientists whose work was crucial to the development of the Covid -19. vaccines.
The Lasker went to Katalin Karikó, senior vice president of Germany-based BioNTech, and Drew Weissman, professor of vaccine research at the University of Pennsylvania, for developing a method of using synthetic messenger RNA to fight disease which involves changing the way the body produces anti-virus material. While their paper received little attention when their research was first published in 2005, it is now the basis for two widely used Covid-19 vaccines.

“Convinced of the promise of mRNA-based therapies despite widespread skepticism, they created a technology that is not only vital in the fight against coronavirus today, but which also holds great promise for future vaccines and treatments for a wide range of diseases including HIV, cancer, autoimmune diseases. and genetic diseases, ”said the Breakthrough Prize in its announcement.

However, there is a debate about who deserves credit for pioneering this technology, with mRNA research starting in the 1980s and involving different groups of scientists from all over the world.

To complicate matters for the Nobel Prize selection committee, under the rules established by Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel in 1895, a Nobel Prize winner can only honor a maximum of three people, which becomes increasingly difficult given the collaborative nature of most scientific research.

DNA sequencing

David Pendlebury is a senior citation analyst at the Institute for Scientific Information at the research firm Clarivate, which makes Nobel predictions by examining how often a scientist’s key articles are cited by his peers. Pendlebury said he believed it was too early for the science behind Covid-19 vaccines to be recognized by the Nobel Prize. He said the Nobel Committee is inherently conservative and typically waits at least a decade, if not several, before becoming a member of its exclusive club.
He thinks the committee could honor Jacques Miller, a Franco-Australian researcher, whose discovery about the organization and function of the human immune system in the 1960s, particularly B cells and T cells, underpins the research. on vaccines.
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The Breakthrough Prize also recognized Shankar Balasubramanian, David Klenerman and Pascal Mayer for their work on next-generation DNA sequencing technologies.

Before their inventions, resequencing a complete human genome could take several months and cost millions of dollars. Today, it can be completed in 24 hours at a cost of around $ 600, the Breakthrough Prize Foundation said. It has transformed many fields, including biology, ecology, paleoarchaeology, forensics, and personalized medicine.

The diversity

In 2019, the Nobel Committee asked nominees to consider the diversity of genders, geography and fields, but that year a list of all-male winners was recorded. Last year, two women, Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer A. Doudna, won the Nobel Prize in chemistry, for the development of the CRISPR method for genome editing, while Andrea Ghez was part of a trio that won the Nobel Prize in Physics for his work. on a supermassive black hole.
While Pendlebury says part of this can be attributed to a “lag effect,” others say there is evidence of systemic bias.
The Nobel Prize in Medicine awarded to the American-British trio for the discovery of the hepatitis C virus

“The Nobel Prize usually rewards people who contributed to discoveries 20, 30, 40 years ago. In the 80s and 90s there weren’t many women in universities – heads of departments, leaders in their domain – – at that time “, Pendlebury noted. “This has changed dramatically over the past 40 years.”

There is no shortage of potential scientific laureates. Jocelyn Bell Burnell, a physicist from Northern Ireland, is often mentioned as a potential winner in physics for her work on the discovery of pulsars, one of the major astronomical discoveries of the 20th century. In medicine, American geneticist Mary-Claire King discovered BRCA mutations and their link to breast cancer risk in 1990, confirming a hereditary risk of cancer.

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There is also very little geographic diversity, with most of the winners still coming from elite institutions in the United States and Europe although, according to Pendlebury’s analysis of journal citations, the most-cited articles come from ‘Asia. A Nobel-worthy scientist reported by Pendlebury this year is Ho Wang Lee, professor emeritus at Korea University in Seoul, for his work on the identification and isolation of hantaviruses, a family of viruses spread by rodents that cause various diseases around the world.
There have been no black Nobel laureates in physics, chemistry and medicine (although there is better representation in the Nobel prizes for peace and literature). American physician and researcher Marilyn Hughes Gaston is one of the potential winners of the Black Nobel Prize in Medicine for her pioneering work on sickle cell anemia, an inherited disease in which the body is unable to produce normal hemoglobin, which has led to screening. at birth and preventive treatment for those affected.

The Nobel Prize in Medicine or Physiology will be announced Monday, October 4, physics on Tuesday and chemistry on Wednesday, followed by the Nobel Prize in Literature on Thursday, the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday and the Prize in Economics next Monday. .

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