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Nobel Prize In Medicine Is Awarded To 3 Americans


The 2017 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, it was awarded today to three American scientists for their discoveries about how our internal clocks govern our lives. NPR health correspondent Rob Stein was talking to my colleague, Steve Inskeep.

ROB STEIN, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.


So who won?

STEIN: So there were three winners, as you said, Jeffrey C. Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael W. Young, and they're pretty young for Nobel Prize winners. Hall is 72, Rosbash is 73 and Young is 68.

INSKEEP: That's young for a Nobel Prize winner.

STEIN: It is pretty young, you know?


STEIN: Usually they wait decades before they give this honor.

INSKEEP: OK. Good to know.

STEIN: And Rosbash and Hall did the research together at Brandeis University in Boston. Hall's retired now, but Rosbash is still working there at Brandeis. And Young is a scientist at Rockefeller University in New York City.

INSKEEP: OK. So what is our internal clock, and what did these folks learn about it?

STEIN: You know, our internal clock is really what governs everything in our bodies and keeps everything kind of ticking along at the right pace to make sure that this complex, you know, dance of hormones in our bodies' cells are all working - working together in the right way. And the academy said they did a series of paradigm-shifting discoveries in what you can think of as sort of the gears inside of our clock to make it all work the way it's supposed to work.

INSKEEP: And when you say our clock do you mean that coordinating, like, whether you feel like it's morning, whether you feel like it's nighttime, time to be awake, time to sleep?

STEIN: That's right. You know, scientists have known for a long time that our bodies have this internal clock. It's called our circadian rhythm. But nobody really knew how it worked, the sort of nitty-gritty details of how it's all orchestrated in this very intricate dance to keep everything on time, as you might say.

INSKEEP: So these guys got into the clockworks and figured out...

STEIN: They got into the clockworks. And they - what they discovered is that these three proteins that all kind of work together to orchestrate things, one is called the PER protein that builds up inside the cell, and then it also builds up and also shuts down the production to keep it from getting - keep everything working on time. There are two other proteins. One is called the timeless protein, and another one is called the double-time protein. And they all come up with great names for these proteins in these cell - in these genes. And they all work together to make sure that our bodies are functioning just at the right pace on this very carefully controlled 24-hour cycle.

INSKEEP: OK. Clear explanation. You must be a morning person, Rob Stein.

STEIN: Well, I've had a couple cups of coffee this morning.

INSKEEP: There you go. Rob Stein, NPR science correspondent, thanks very much.

STEIN: Sure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rob Stein is a correspondent and senior editor on NPR's science desk.