Pharmacology
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1992 Nobel Prize

1992 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine

1992 Nobel Prize Winners

Drs. Edwin G. Krebs and Edmond H. Fischer

The discovery of a regulatory mechanism affecting almost all cells led to Nobel honors on October 12, 1992 for Edwin G. Krebs, Professor Emeritus of Pharmacology and Biochemistry, and Edmond H. Fischer, Professor Emeritus of Biochemistry.

The winners of the 1992 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine discovered a "life switch" that turns on and off a variety of biological functions in the cell, including the breakdown of fats and the generation of chemical energy. This prize-winning discovery is known as "reversible protein phosphorylation."

This breakthrough, discovered at the UW and first published in 1956, has led to research into how glycogen in the body breaks down into glucose. It has also fostered techniques that prevent the body from rejecting transplanted organs. The discovery has opened new doors for research into cancer, blood pressure, inflammatory reactions and brain signals. Some believe the process could have a role in diabetes.

In phosphorylation, cell proteins are altered to perform their duties as enzymes, catalysts, energy-transfer agents or other functinos. The protein is "switched on" when its shape is altered by the addition of one or more phosphate groups. When the phosphate group is taken away, the protein's work changes or stops.

When they first made their discovery, however, they had no idea of its far-reaching implications. At the time they did not know that this type of reaction was one of the most prevalent mechanisms of control of cellular processes. And yet, the field they helped to initiate is one that is still expanding today. The award highlights the importance of funding basic research in addition to projects targeted at a specific disease. "Their fundamental finding initiated a research era which today is one of the most active and wide-ranging" the Nobel Assembly at the Karolinska Institue wrote in announcing the award.

They received the award in Stockholm on December 10, 1992 from King Carl XVI Gustav of Sweden.

Krebs joined the UW faculty in 1948 as one of the first professors in the newly established medical school. Fischer joined the faculty in 1953. They began their pioneering work together in 1954, spending 14 years in biochemical research on metabolic events. In 1968, Krebs left the UW to become chair of the Department of Biological Chemistry at UC- Davis. He returned to the UW in 1977 to become chair of the Department of Pharmacology. Most recently he was an emeritus professor in Pharmacology and a senior investigator emeritus of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. Sadly, Krebs passed away from complications of progressive heart failure on December 21, 2009, at the age of 91. He was one of the pillars of our field, and his influence will continue for many decades to come. Fisher continues to actively pursue his research interests at the University.