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Wednesday, 9 October, 2002, 09:57 GMT 10:57 UK
Proteins win top prize
Wuethrich, AFP
Kurt Wuethrich: Helped open the science of proteomics
The 2002 Nobel Prize for chemistry honours science done to increase our understanding of the large, sophisticated molecules, such as proteins, which build and maintain our bodies.


Their work has paved the way for the future finding of a cure for cancer

Bengt Norden
The 10 million kronor prize is shared by John Fenn, of the United States, Japan's Koichi Tanaka, and Kurt Wuethrich, of Switzerland.

In essence, the trio helped to lay the foundations for the new science of proteomics - the study of how proteins interact with other substances in the cell and sustain life.

Proteomics is the next great leap which should build on the information gleaned from the Human Genome Project to produce a new generation of drugs that are expected to be far more effective and even tailored to the individual patient.

New tools

The Nobel citation said the Laureates had produced "powerful analytical methods for studying biological macromolecules, for example proteins.

Tanaka, AP
Tanaka is the youngest chemistry laureate since 1934
"The possibility of analysing proteins in detail has led to increased understanding of the processes of life."

Thanks to their work, scientists can now tell which proteins are present in a sample. They can also now even create three-dimensional images of the molecules.

This know-how has enabled researchers to better understand how the cells in our bodies work, and helped them develop new diagnostic tools to identify disease.

In solution

"Their work has paved the way for the future finding of a cure for cancer," said Bengt Norden, chairman of the Nobel committee for chemistry. "Without it, there would be no modern pharmaceuticals."

Fenn, AP
John Fenn: Pioneering work in the 1980s
Fenn and Tanaka showed in the 1980s how a technique called mass spectrometry, which is used to determine which elements in a sample are present, could be developed to identify proteins.

Previously, mass spectrometric methods could only recognise small molecules.

Kurt Wuethrich, also in the 1980s, further developed another chemistry tool known as nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) imaging.

Through his work, Wuethrich made it possible to use NMR on proteins and, in particular, for this study to be done in solution (an environment similar to that in the living cell).

Youngest laureate

Fenn and Tanaka take half of the prize; Wuethrich takes the other half.

John Fenn, of the Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, US, is now 85. Koichi Tanaka, 43, works for the Shimadzu Corporation in Kyoto, Japan.

Kurt Wuethrich, 64, is connected with the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich and the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California, US.

Tanaka is the youngest chemistry laureate since 1934 and the second Japanese Nobel winner this year following Masatoshi Koshiba, one of the physics laureates.

See also:

08 Oct 02 | Science/Nature
10 Oct 01 | Science/Nature
10 Oct 00 | Science/Nature
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