THE ATTRIBUTION OF THE NOBEL PRIZE FOR MEDICINE TO THREE SCIENTISTS WHO STUDIED NEUROTRANSMISSION REFLECTS THE SOCIAL PREOCCUPATIONS OF TODAY: THIRD AGE AND HOW TO PREPARE FOR AGEING SOCIETIES As societies grow older, with a falling birth rate, and as at the same time modern medicine finds solutions for problems which even ten years ago were synonyms for an early death, neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s are more and more common. Famous examples are Pope John Paul II, suffering from the most common form of Parkinson’s disease; Michael J. Fox, in his early forties, suffering from a form of the same disease which appears in early middle age and finally, ex-President of the USA, Ronald Reagan, suffering from advanced Alzheimer’s disease. It is therefore not surprising that the Nobel Prize for Medicine was attributed to three scientists who have been studying the area of neurotransmission for forty years. Arvind Carlsson, from the University of Gotemburg in Sweden, started his research into neurotransmission in the 1950s. It was this scientist who discovered that dopamine is responsible for transmitting signals in the brain and that this substance is concentrated in certain areas. From this research, medicines were created to treat Parkinson’s disease, based on stimulating the levels of dopamine in the cells in which it is usually produced. His research also gave rise to medicines useful in the treatment of Schizophrenia and a new line of antidepressants, like Prozac. Paul Greengard, of Rockefeller University, USA, researched into the relationship between neurotransmission and the central nervous system. He discovered that a neuron transmits a chemical signal to another and that this transmission produces a reaction affecting proteins which regulate cellular function. Through this research, it is possible to understand the action mechanisms of certain medicines. The third scientist to share this prize, Eric Kandel, from Columbia University, USA, studied the species “Aplysia californica”, a species of sea slug, to see how neuron transmission worked. Extrapolating evidence obtained from tests on these simple creatures, Kandel was able to make a model for human neuron transmission. His research was based on how much, or how little, time a stimulus was remembered by a neuron. This research was fundamental for the launching of new generations of medicines to combat Alzheimer’s disease. With societies in the developed countries pushing back the frontiers of longevity more and more, this is an area of study which benefits all of mankind. As people are forced to work harder and harder, there is less time for the family and those who grow too old or infirm to look after themselves become more vulnerable. This research may mean a respite for millions of elderly people around the world who would otherwise have been facing third age homes in what should be their golden years.

Timothy Bancroft-Hinchey Correspondent of PRAVDA.Ru Lissabon

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