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Nobel Prize Founded by Alfred Nobel, the Nobel Prize is awarded to candidates in the fields of physics, chemistry, medicine or physiology, literature, economic sciences, and peace every year since 1901 – except for economic sciences, which was introduced as a Nobel Prize in 1968 by the Sveriges Riksbank. On account of World War I and II, the Nobel Prize was not awarded only on nine occasions since the established year from 1901.
Alfred Nobel, a Swedish engineer, chemist, and philanthropist, created a will that would bequeath 94% of his assets into a series of prizes for those who contribute the highest benefit to mankind in the respective fields. Recipients of the Nobel Prize – which can be shared by no more than three people and can also be awarded posthumously in certain cases – receive a medal, sum of money, and diploma for their achievements and are elected by the Nobel Foundation.
The Nobel Foundation was created by the executors of Nobel’s will, Rudolf Liljequist and Ragnar Sohlman. The private organization that is the Nobel Foundation is also responsible for administrative details and finances of the prizes. The prizes are presented according to their respective field. The Royal Swedish Academy of the Sciences awards the prizes for chemistry, physics, and economic sciences. The Swedish Academy presents the Nobel Prize in literature. The prize for physiology or medicine is awarded by the National Assembly at Karolinska Institutet.
Finally, the award for peace is presented by the Norwegian Nobel Committee and is the only award to be presented in Norway rather than in Sweden. All prizes are awarded based upon several factors but mainly through Nobel’s maxim of delivering the greatest benefit to mankind and is ultimately decided by the Nobel Committees. One hundred and three Nobel Prizes in medicine or physiology have been awarded since 1901 and two-hundred one individuals are known as laureates in the field since the prize may be shared by three or more people.
Around forty-three awards for the Nobel Prize in medicine and physiology have been presented relating to the field of neuroscience, such as Roger Guillemin in 1977 for his research in the production of peptides in the brain and Roger Wolcott Sperry in 1981 for research into the functions of the right and left hemispheres of the brain. Other rewarded scientists for the Nobel Prize in medicine or physiology include Nikolaas Tinbergen, Konrad Zacharias Lorenz, nd Karl von Frisch for their research into ethology, a scientific enquiry into animal behavior. Scientists whose research affected the understanding of Parkinson’s disease include Arvid Carlsson and Paul Greengard. The two were awarded in the year 2000 mainly for their neurological research into signal transduction in the nervous system. Carlsson and Greengard’s colleague, Kandel, who also shared the prize with them that year, was rewarded for his studies in synaptic function; more precisely, a closer look into short term and long term memory.
Specifically, Arvid Carlsson and Paul Greengard’s research affected the progression of understanding of Parkinson’s disease by showing how important neurotransmitters such as dopamine work and affect the function of the brain and thus the human body. Carlsson more specifically identified dopamine and Greengard portrayed how neurotransmitters like dopamine, noradrenaline, and serotonin are able to exert their effects. His research includes a type of signal transmission called the slow synaptic transmission.
Carleton Gajdusek’s research in 1976 on the first human prion disease named kuru later on would also help Stanley Prusiner’s studies in 1997 for his work on prions which would shed more light into dementia-related diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease. Although prions are reflective in diseases such as Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease or kuru, Prusiner’s work opens a new understanding of the pathogenesis of diseases like Alzheimer’s via the suggestions of non-prion proteins mutating to facilitate dangerous deposits in the brain.
Swedish scientist and Nobel laureate Arvid Carlsson was able to show the importance of dopamine as a neurotransmitter in the brain. By developing an assay that allowed him to measure dopamine at an extremely sensitive level in the brain tissues, Carlsson found that dopamine is concentrated in other parts of the brain – specifically the basal ganglia, the part of the brain located in the forebrain and connected with the cerebral cortex.
Contrary to belief at his time that dopamine is merely a precursor to a neurotransmitter named norepinephrine; Carlsson concluded that dopamine in and of itself is able to act as a neurotransmitter and is greatly vital for the ability to control fine motor movements. Carlsson then led to a series of experiments where he utilized a plant substance named reserpine to discover the importance of dopamine for movement. Carlsson administered reserpine to nimals thus decreasing their levels of dopamine which ultimately caused a loss of movement control. The effect of reserpine on the animals showed symptoms akin to Parkinson’s disease in humans. Carlsson then proceeded to treat the animals with levodopa (L-dopa), a precursor to dopamine, a substance that the brain converts into dopamine and is used in lieu of mere dopamine in order to prevent side effects of dopamine in the blood and since dopamine cannot cross the blood-brain barrier in the first place.
Eventually, Carlsson found that the animal’s symptoms disappeared and returned to their previous, normal state since the levels of dopamine in the brain were normalized. Thus, Carlsson’s findings led to more findings that Parkinson’s disease patients have unusually low levels of dopamine represented in the basal ganglia, an area that is very important in the control of muscle movements. There has also been evidence provided by Carlsson of forms of mental illness associated with unsteady levels of dopamine.
Carlsson’s findings essentially explain the tremor, rigidity, and decreased motor function associated with Parkinson’s disease since patients with Parkinson’s share the malfunction of certain nerve cells within the basal ganglia that creates dopamine. Conclusively, the animals treated with reserpine and patients with Parkinson’s are low on dopamine levels. Nowadays, the same treatment of levodopa that Carlsson used for treating the symptoms of the reserpine in the animals has been tweaked for human use as a primary pharmaceutical option for patients with Parkinson’s disease in order to alleviate the symptoms.
By allowing dopamine levels to be controlled through levodopa therapy, patients are able to experience more stable amounts of dopamine in their system, as opposed to having an irregularly low amount, so that one the ongoing loss of fine motor control associated with the onset of Parkinson’s disease may be alleviated for some time. Besides Parkinson’s disease, Carlsson’s Nobel worthy research has also increased the understanding of several other drugs.
Carlsson is also notable for his contribution into the discovery and a new generation of drugs, the selective serotonin uptake inhibitors, to treat depression or personality disorders. This new class of drugs is now known as SSRI’s and is considered for many patients dealing with depression. For antipsychotic drugs used to treat schizophrenia, Carlsson showed that the drugs affect the signal transmission of dopamine by blocking the dopamine receptors.
Nonetheless, by proving the popular belief of dopamine at his time that dopamine is simply a precursor to another neurotransmitter wrong and showing dopamine’s unknown importance at the time, Arvid Carlsson’s findings essentially lead the development of levodopa and consequently has helped an innumerable amount of patients dealing with the motor symptoms associated with Parkinson’s disease. Although not a cure, Carlsson’s work has been a stepping stone for understanding Parkinson’s disease and has eased the discomforts of such a deadly disease that affects many people in the world.