Nobel Prize in Medicine awarded to Norwegian Couple

10 Oct.2014

May-Britt and Edvard Moser from Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) won this year’s Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their discovery of how ‘an inner GPS in the brain’ maps the surroundings that later on are used for navigation.

The announcement was made on Monday, Oct. 6th around 11.40 by Gøran K. Hansson in the Nobel Institute.

John O’Keefe, 75, who is a British-American scientist, and May-Britt, 51, and Edvard I. Moser, 52, a Norwegian married couple, are the three Nobel laureates that will share the prize of $1.1 million.

The Karolinska Institute in Sweden, which chooses the laureates, explains that the scientists have discovered a positioning system that helps us know where we are, how we can find our way from place to place and then store the information for the next time we need it. The responsibility for this navigational system is devoted to certain cells that the researchers have found.

In 1971 Dr. O’Keefe identified nerve cells in the hippocampus region in the brain that he called “place cells”. They registered not only what is seen but also what is not seen by building inner maps in various environments.

The second crucial component of the system is the discovery of the Mosers. The nerve cells identified by them are responsible for our coordination and positioning. These are called grid cells. The scientists’ work with them began in 2002.

Both ‘place’ and ‘grid’ cells make it possible to determine position and to navigate. The navigational system has been tested in rats. When passed through multiple locations, the cells create a hexagonal grid and each cell activates unique spatial pattern.

Evidence that place and grid cells exist in humans is found from patients that have undergone neurosurgery. The laureates’ findings may lead to improvements in our understanding of the spatial losses that occur in Alzheimer’s and other neurological diseases. The areas where the cells are found are often damaged in the early stages of Alzheimer’s.

The Mosers are born in rural Norway. They went to the same high school, but got to know each other during their undergraduate studies in the University of Oslo. They are now head and deputy head of Kavli Institute for Systems Neuroscience at NTNU in Trondheim. The couple says that an important advantage when you conduct research with your family is that it is easier to share ideas immediately than waiting for meetings. They are the second husband and wife to win a Nobel prize in medicine.

May-Britt Moser was dancing in the corridors and hugging her colleagues in the university when she discovered that they won the prize. “I knew that we were nominated, but never expected that we will win!” she said to adressa.no.

Both the rector of NTNU, Gunnar Bovim, and the prime minister of Norway, Erna Solberg, congratulated May-Britt and Edvard Moser on Twitter. They expressed their happiness stating that the Norwegian scientists are an inspiration for the university, other researchers and of course the patients.

 

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