2018 Nobels
October 1, 2018 1:45 PM   Subscribe

It's Nobel Prize week! The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded today to James P. Allison and Tasuku Honjo for discovering how to release the immune system's brakes and enable it to attack cancer cells. Who will the awards in Physics and Chemistry go to? Inside Science (from the American Institute of Physics) has some predictions.

In other Nobel news, there will be no Nobel Prize in Literature awarded this year because the Swedish academy needs to clean house following a horrible sexual abuse scandal. The Academy member at the center of the scandal was jailed today after being found guilty of rape. (Previously)

And if you feel like placing bets on the Nobel Peace Prize, the bookies have you covered.
posted by Westringia F. (36 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
 
(The video linked in "release ... cells" above starts out with the fairly dry prize announcement, but then quickly moves on to a very clear explanation of the science. I recommend watching it!)
posted by Westringia F. at 1:49 PM on October 1, 2018




Oooh, parking privileges!
posted by poe at 2:37 PM on October 1, 2018 [8 favorites]


The always great "in the pipeline" on A nobel for immuno-oncology

from his analysis:

"
People have been trying to get the immune system enlisted into cancer treatment for at least a hundred years. That involves both figuring out ways to activate an immune response, and understanding how tumors largely manage to evade such a response in the first place. But as anyone who has looked into the field for fifteen seconds can tell you, immunology is one of the most fiendishly complex areas of medicine. It would have to be: left unchecked, a full-blown immune crisis can kill you where you stand, within minutes. That’s one reason why I roll my eyes when I hear ads for “dietary supplements” and the like promising to “activate my immune system”. You want to be really sure about what you’re asking for, because an activated immune system is capable of fearsome amounts of damage if it gets even slightly mis-aimed.......

......The number of I/O clinical trials is arguably already into hold-on-a-minute-here-dudes territory, and there’s an immense amount of dust in the air.

But what’s clear is that this has been a revolution in oncology. For all the false starts, missed endpoints, fights over credit and struggles for market share, let there be no doubt: immuno-oncology has been pulling people out of their graves
. Cancer cells being what they are, tumors can eventually turn around and mutate their way past the existing therapies in many cases. But there are people with advanced cancers who had been told to get their affairs in order who are still walking around, watching their children grow up. ......

....The only regret I have about it – and it’s a regret that shows up every year during Nobel season – is that the prize tends to make discoveries like these seem like the work of far fewer people than they really are. This one has absolutely taken a scientific army, and the campaign continues.
"
posted by lalochezia at 2:40 PM on October 1, 2018 [16 favorites]


A correction that seems worth pointing out: The man jailed is not a member of the Academy (his wife is).
posted by oulipian at 3:58 PM on October 1, 2018 [3 favorites]


Thanks, oulipian. I missed that.
posted by Westringia F. at 4:01 PM on October 1, 2018


(thanks for not listing the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel alongside the other, real, prizes actually established by Alfred Nobel)
posted by thecjm at 4:12 PM on October 1, 2018 [6 favorites]


It would have to be: left unchecked, a full-blown immune crisis can kill you where you stand, within minutes. That’s one reason why I roll my eyes when I hear ads for “dietary supplements” and the like promising to “activate my immune system”.

That reminds me of a couple of passages from How the Immune System Works. The first one is about the complement system, which is constantly building grenades on the surface of all of our cells, which our cells have to constantly deactivate. It was discovered in the wake of transplantation experiments:
Transplant surgeons don't have enough human organs to satisfy the demand for transplantation, so they are considering using organs from animals. One of the hot candidates for an organ donor is the pig, because pigs are cheap to raise and some of their organs are about the same size as those of humans. As a warm-up for human transplantation, surgeons decided to transplant a pig organ into a baboon. This experiment was not a big success! Almost immediately, the baboon's immune system began to attack the organ, and within minutes the transplanted organ was a bloody pulp. The culprit? The complement system.
The second is about septic shock:
LPS [a molecule shed by Gram-negative bacteria] is a potent danger signal that can activate macrophages and NK cells. These two cells then cooperate in a positive feedback loop that increases their activation states. Normally, this positive feedback loop amplifies the immune response so that the innate system can respond quickly and strongly to a localized infection. However, in a "full-body" infection in which bacteria carried by the blood enter tissues everywhere, this amplified response can get out of hand. TNF secreted by activated macrophages can cause blood vessels to become "leaky," so that fluid escapes from the vessels into the surrounding tissues. In extreme cases, the decrease in blood volume due to system-wide leakage can cause a drop in blood pressure that results in shock (septic shock) and heart failure.
The mortality rate from septic shock is 25-50%. So, yeah, not something you want to activate willy-nilly.
posted by clawsoon at 4:41 PM on October 1, 2018 [1 favorite]


At this point, available checkpoint inhibitors are very broad spectrum; that is, they activate a large array of (predominantly) T lymphocytes including some which are directed against tumor cells. Others, though, attack normal tissues. As a result, some of the side effects of checkpoint inhibitor therapy are: new onset insulin-dependent diabetes (related to damage of islet cells); rheumatologic syndromes similar to JRA, Sjogren syndrome, and polymyositis; and hepatotoxicity, rash, pneumonitis, and nephrotoxicity probably related to endothelial injury, etc.

Significant toxicity is reported in up to 35% of recipients while long- term remission of tumors (> 3 years) is reported in < 20-25%, depending on tumor type. Nevertheless, these are generally patients with advanced disease who have failed first- and second-line therapy. It’s a breakthrough but still very early. Hopefully, more targeted agents will be developed. In addition, these toxicities are providing new insights into rheumatologic and autoimmune conditions. The search is on for ‘checkpoint activators’ as a new class of immunosuppressives.
posted by sudogeek at 5:29 PM on October 1, 2018 [4 favorites]


My dad's cancer was going to kill him in less than a year. That was three years ago, and now his prognosis is unlimited, because he got on an immuno trial basically as it was created at Hopkins, and happened to have a gene mutation that made it work incredibly well. He'll see me graduate and see my children grow up. If that trial came up only months later he'd be dead now. So, a fucking well-deserved award, in my extremely biased opinion.
posted by colorblock sock at 9:24 PM on October 1, 2018 [28 favorites]


The Nobel Prize in Physics has been awarded to Arthur Ashkin, Gérard Mourou and Donna Strickland for their work in laser physics including the development of optical tweezers: laser beams that can grab and hold a single molecule.

Donna Strickland is the first woman in 55 years to be awarded the physics Nobel, and only the third woman to do so (Maria Goeppert-Mayer won the prize in 1963 for the nuclear shell model; before her, Marie Curie won the 1903 prize -- the first of two she would earn -- for her work on radiation). In all cases, including today, the prize was awarded to a group of two men and one woman, with the woman awarded only 1/4 the prize (the other 3/4 being distributed the to two men as 1/2 and 1/4).

Live announcement video link
posted by Westringia F. at 3:44 AM on October 2, 2018 [10 favorites]


(NB: the announcement starts around 22 minutes in, the way the video currently is.)
posted by Westringia F. at 3:51 AM on October 2, 2018


(thanks for not listing the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel alongside the other, real, prizes actually established by Alfred Nobel)

OTOH, the real Nobels are a thing Nobel created to be remembered for something other than building the tools to murder millions and millions of human beings; obvs it worked. In contrast, the econ pseudo-Nobel is a thing the Swedish government created to recognize excellent research, and it has the benefit of not being blood money.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 4:05 AM on October 2, 2018 [6 favorites]


This seems like a good place to mention that time a cow got the Nobel prize.

Because she didn’t have a bell.
(Shamelessly stolen from the dad joke thread.)
posted by TedW at 5:39 AM on October 2, 2018 [2 favorites]


In the cow’s defense, she was out standing in her field.
posted by haltingproblemsolved at 5:52 AM on October 2, 2018 [10 favorites]


OTOH, the real Nobels are a thing Nobel created to be remembered for something other than building the tools to murder millions and millions of human beings; obvs it worked. In contrast, the econ pseudo-Nobel is a thing the Swedish government created to recognize excellent research, and it has the benefit of not being blood money.

Its also displayed right next to the other ones.

The overlap between "econ 101 isn't real life!" and "econ nobel isnt real prize!" seems to be pretty strong.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 6:34 AM on October 2, 2018 [2 favorites]


The Nobel Prize in Physics has been awarded to Arthur Ashkin, Gérard Mourou and Donna Strickland for their work in laser physics including the development of optical tweezers: laser beams that can grab and hold a single molecule.

To be precise, the prize was awarded for "groundbreaking inventions in the field of laser physics": half to Ashkin for optical tweezers, and half to Mourou/Strickland for chirped pulse amplification.
posted by Etrigan at 8:06 AM on October 2, 2018 [4 favorites]


Here's some evidence that promotion systems at universities are broken: Dr. Strickland is an Associate Professor.
posted by demiurge at 8:53 AM on October 2, 2018 [4 favorites]


But she's an Associate Professor with her own parking space, right?
posted by Etrigan at 9:04 AM on October 2, 2018 [1 favorite]


Here's some evidence that promotion systems at universities are broken: Dr. Strickland is an Associate Professor.

Apparently it's different in Canada, an associate professor can have full tenure and possibly more compensation than a full professor. The full professor role comes with other non research based responsibilities that an associate professor may not want.
posted by mikesch at 11:49 AM on October 2, 2018 [1 favorite]


So Strickland's Waterloo salary was just under $160,000 last year. The Associate Professor range is about $100k to just over $250k (411 people), with 266 of them earning less than Strickland. Full professor salaries range from about $100-$315k. 62 of the 448 full professors earn less than Strickland. I have no idea what these ranges mean when you factor in seniority and the like.

I think she probably has tenure: I guess someone should ask that question. But this made me snort: "Promotion to the rank of Professor recognizes a high order of achievement in both scholarship and teaching by tenured Associate Professors, together with satisfactory performance in service. Although evidence of strong teaching performance is required, normally the greatest emphasis is placed on scholarship and achievement within an individual's discipline."
posted by maudlin at 1:40 PM on October 2, 2018


Another cool thing that happened to Donna Strickland today is that she got a Wikipedia page. Someone tried to add her in May, but the page was deleted because she was deemed insufficiently notable.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 4:22 PM on October 2, 2018 [3 favorites]


Local news anchor made the announcement that she was the first woman in 55 years to win the noble PEACE prize.
posted by sammyo at 7:36 PM on October 2, 2018


Jocelyn Bell Burnell, long a hero of mine, will be speaking at UC Irvine next spring. I'm considering traveling (from another western state) to see that. I suppose I should see if she's doing other public events in the US.
posted by neuron at 10:55 PM on October 2, 2018 [1 favorite]


When will I stop being mad about Dr. Vera Rubin? Not this year it seems.
posted by annekate at 3:10 AM on October 3, 2018 [1 favorite]


Directed Evolution and Phage Display Won Chemisttry

Frances H Arnold, George P Smith and Gregory P Winter win Nobel prize in chemistry


One of the co-inventors of directed evolution and (more specifically, gene shuffling), Pip Stemmer, died in 2013

I did my PhD on a cousin of this work, I remember citing Phage Display and Directed Evolutionary approaches in my intro, and being very excited about it all. Good stuff!

Will post analysis soon.
posted by lalochezia at 3:59 AM on October 3, 2018 [1 favorite]


Somebody on the radio just now said that she was delighted at how humble Strickland was, and that Strickland wasn't a full professor because she said she couldn't be bothered to fill out the forms.
posted by clawsoon at 5:47 AM on October 3, 2018


I saw Frances Arnold give a talk earlier this year, and was very pleased when she won this award. It's way out of my wheelhouse but I found the work fascinating (and the talk really engaging, which doesn't always happen).

And now *cue* grumbles from chemists about how the biologists have taken another Chemistry Nobel.
Source: knows a lot of chemists
posted by invokeuse at 6:59 AM on October 3, 2018 [1 favorite]


And now *cue* grumbles from chemists about how the biologists have taken another Chemistry Nobel.


They're not wrong.

Frances Arnold - The Division of Biology and Biological Engineering (although she is also present in their chemistry department as well)

George P. Smith - Division of Biological Sciences (no presence in the Chemistry department at all)

Sir Gregory P. Winter - MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Cambridge, UK

The main issue is really that the line between Molecular Biology and Chemistry has thinned so much now that there is little difference between the two. I know that I (trained as a Chemist) was able to work in a molecular bio lab without any issue. Molecular bio is more of a niche within the Chemistry sphere than in the Biology sphere.
posted by koolkat at 7:48 AM on October 3, 2018




And now *cue* grumbles from chemists about how the biologists have taken another Chemistry Nobel.

If it's any consolation, you can tell them that Arnold originally earned her BSc in mechanical engineering and her PhD in chemical engineering, but I guess they'd then say an engineer taking the chemistry prize is worse. No pleasing some, I suppose.

The Arnold group's Caltech homepage is getting slammed right now, so I can't check their list of publications. When I pull up their recent citations in Google Scholar I'm seeing a lot of publications in top-flight chemistry journals (Journal of the American Chemical Society, Angewandte Chemie International Edition, Journal of Organic Chemistry, ACS Catalysis) along with the broader-appeal Nature, Science, and PNAS ones. And even to my (now-retired) inorganic-chemist sensibilities, most of the titles are easily recognizable as organic synthesis. So, no, I'd in no way consider this to be a chemistry Nobel 'stolen' by the biologists. Maybe it's the other way around - Arnold and Co. have just 'stolen' some biology to do some pretty neat chemistry.

Of course, I'm old enough to remember some only-half-joking mutterings that the 1985 chemistry Nobel had been given to a couple of physicists for a black-box technique...
posted by hangashore at 9:46 AM on October 3, 2018 [1 favorite]


A few days ago, Frances Arnold expressed what sounded like imposter syndrome about being the Linus Pauling Professor at Caltech.
posted by clawsoon at 10:20 AM on October 3, 2018



A few days ago, Frances Arnold expressed what sounded like imposter syndrome about being the Linus Pauling Professor at Caltech.


Frances Arnold is a world class chemist and scientist. And she knows it.

BUT

I doubt this is impostor syndrome. If you were going to have impostor syndrome about being like anyone, I would recommend Linus Pauling, probably the most important chemist of the 20th century, easily in the top 20 scientists of ALL TIME, and the winner of TWO nobels. (the only other humans to have done this are Frederick Sanger, John Bardeen and Marie Curie).

Arnold's work is stellar, but will never reach the impact that pauling had; the low (and high) hanging fruit he plucked simply can't be recreated by anyone these days, man or woman. He defined the chemical bond, proposed the alpha helix and beta sheet in proteins, made seminal contributions to crystallography etc etc etc. No-one these days can have that breadth of impact in what is a relatively mature science.
posted by lalochezia at 12:04 PM on October 3, 2018 [2 favorites]


Denis Mukwege and Nadia Murad have won the Peace prize for their work against sexual violence.
posted by Hypatia at 8:24 AM on October 5, 2018 [3 favorites]




Timely.
posted by infini at 7:52 AM on October 7, 2018


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