Friday, April 04, 2008

Notes on proteins, the Nobel Prize, the secret of life

It was a privilege to meet and listen to the distinguished Nobel laureate Aaron Ciechanover who talked about "Life and death - Why our proteins have to die so we shall live."

Some things he said just hit me.

He observed that people these days seem to be always in a hurry - for a deadline, meeting friends, getting rich, getting famous, winning awards. Where are they hurrying to really? He said most are really rushing to nowhere.

One secret of success is just making the right choice and doing what one wants to do. When you make a mistake, you just turn around, like when making a wrong turn you just make a U-turn and start again. One can't just be wrong the second time around.

For a Nobel Prize winner, he was so candid to advise people not to be too serious about awards, prizes and recognitions. One must be serious about what one does, he said. After winning the award, he said he still has to wake up early in the morning and go to work. There's no vacation in life.

Another secret of success/life, he said, is selecting the right teacher or mentor.

Then he talked about proteins. He said 10 percent of our proteins are destroyed every day. It takes 15 to 20 days to destroy it all. If you think that when you look at yourself on the mirror it's the same face that stared back at you two weeks ago? You're wrong, he said. It's a new face because all your proteins have already been replaced.

The roles of intracellular protein:

1. Quality control
2. Control of processes
3. Differentiation and morphogenesis

Thanks to the work of Professor Ciechanover it is possible to understand at a molecular level how the cell controls a number of central processes by breaking down certain proteins and not others. It led pharmaceutical companies to initiate efforts to develop medications, and one successful drug to combat cancer is already on the market, with many more in the pipeline.

He said people are living longer these days because we have been defeating diseases through science and because we have learned hygiene. He also said that people are not getting older because age is a matter of spirit and what one can do.

Although he said a lot of alternative medicines and homeopathic practices might be effective, many still haven't passed the scrutiny of scientific investigation and proven scientific standards. People should be educated about science, he said.

He advised governments and authorities to give importance to people's access to medicine. He said drug prices are high because some people want to take advantage of others.

He said: "We live in a complicated world of corruption and stealing."

Professor Ciechanover is a 2004 Nobel Laureate for Chemistry and a Distinguished Research Professor in the Faculty of Medicine of the Technion Institute of Technology in Haifa, Israel.

Born in Haifa, Ciechanover received his Master of Science in 1970 and his MD in 1975 from the Hadassah Medical School of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He received his doctorate in medicine in 1981 from the Technion and has been a Distinguished Research Professor at the Center for Cancer and Vascular Biology and the Director of the Rappaport Family Institute for Research in Medical Sciences at the Technion. In 2004 he shared the Nobel Prize for Chemistry with Professor Avram Hershko, his teacher, and Professor Irwin Rose for the discovery of ubiquitin-mediated protein degradation, a mechanism by which the cells of most living organisms cull unwanted proteins.

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