All eyes on the Nobel Prize

07 October 16

written by:

Ade Deane-Pratt

(more articles)

The award-winning researcher's work on cell recycling is vital for understanding sight loss

Head and shoulders shot of the professor in a suit and tie.
File photo of Yoshinori Osumi, 2015. Image: 大臣官房人事課.

You may have seen this week that the 2016 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine has been awarded to Professor Yoshinori Ohsumi at the Tokyo Institute of Technology for his work on autophagy. If your next thought was: “what’s autophagy?” you’re not alone.

Don’t worry. We can help.

Autophagy is the process of cell recycling. Damaged parts of cells in the body are broken down and renewed to keep the system working.

It’s particularly important for vision as light damages the cells in our eyes called photoreceptors. They detect light and turn it into an electrical signal to send on to the brain for processing.


The first discovery to come out of the RP Genome Project was a new form of inherited blindness caused by glitches in a gene that’s vital for kick-starting autophagy. The RP Genome Project is our Partnership to bring some of the top academic groups working on inherited sight loss together to multiply their efforts.

Autophagy is also important in age-related macular degeneration. We’re currently funding research on autophagy and AMD by Dr Heping Xu’s team at Queen’s University Belfast and we know that recycling in the eye is key to seeing in colour and bright light.

So you don’t have to bluff it. You can talk now about autophagy with confidence.

It’s pronounced auto-fay-jee ;)