Medicine prize opens Nobel week overshadowed by war

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Stockholm (AFP) – Breast cancer discoveries and mRNA vaccines are seen as potential winners when the week-long Nobel Prize in Medicine kicks off from announcing the winners on Monday, as this year’s awards take place in the shadow of war in Europe.

The Nobel Prizes were created more than 120 years before Europe was devastated by two world wars, and the Nobel Prizes will celebrate those who have “brought the greatest benefit to mankind” after a year marked by bloodshed and devastation in Ukraine.

The medicine award will be announced at approximately 11:30 am (0930 GMT) in Stockholm on Monday, followed by the physics awards on Tuesday, chemistry on Wednesday and literature on Thursday.

The Peace Prize, the most awaited and the only one announced in Oslo, will follow on Friday, with the Economics Prize concluding on October 10.

As for medicine, a woman’s name still appears among award watchers: American geneticist Marie Claire King, who in 1990 discovered the BRCA1 gene responsible for a genetic form of breast cancer.

She may be honored with US oncologist Dennis Salamon and German Axel Ulrich for their research that led to the development of the breast cancer drug Herceptin.

However, if the jury breaks with its tradition of honoring decades-old research, another woman may be well positioned for her role in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic.

male domination

The Hungarian-born Katalin Kariko has already been honored by all other major medicine awards, and could win for her pioneering research that led directly to the first mRNA vaccines to fight Covid-19, produced by Pfizer and Moderna.

“There is not only the direct benefit it has given us in fighting the epidemic, it is also the first in a series of very promising applications using this technology,” Nobel observer Ulrika Björkstein, head of the science service at Swedish Public Radio, told AFP.

Kariko can be honored with her assistant Drew Weissman from the United States and Pieter Cullis from Canada.

Last year, the award was given to American researchers David Julius and Erdem Patbutian for their discoveries about human receptors for heat and touch.

His money has been on King and Slamon this year, said David Pendlebury, who heads the closely watched Clarivate Analytics Group that lists dozens of potential Nobel science prize winners.

But he also referred to Hong Kong molecular biologist Yuk-Ming Dennis Lu, who pioneered the development of non-surgical prenatal tests.

He also developed a new method for early detection of cancer using a few drops of blood called liquid biopsies.

A simple blood draw “can identify all kinds of potential problems and diseases,” Pendlebury said.

Male researchers based in the United States have overwhelmingly dominated the Nobel science prizes over the years.

Various award committees have insisted that they try to recognize women’s achievements, but say that many major discoveries were made decades ago when fewer women participated in high-level research.

Last year, 12 men and one woman won Nobel Prizes, and all scientific nods went to men.

Anti-Putin Prizes?

For Thursday’s literature prize, literary critics told AFP they believe the Swedish Academy may choose a more popular author this year, after picking lesser-known writers over the past two years.

Last year, Tanzanian writer Abdul Razak Jarna won, while American poet Louise Gluck was crowned 2020.

American novelists Joyce Carol Oates, French Annie Ernaud and Maris Conde, Russian Lyudmila Ulitskaya and Canadian Margaret Atwood were cited as potential winners if the panel were to consider a woman.

However, online betting sites put the French favorite, Michel Houellebecq, ahead of British writer Salman Rushdie, who was the victim of an attempted murder in August.

But the Peace Prize is expected to hold special significance this year.

After Russian journalist Dmitriy Muratov won the prize last year with his Filipino colleague Maria Ressa in the name of freedom of expression, will the Norwegian Nobel Committee award another anti-Putin prize after Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine?

Not since World War II has there been a conflict between two countries so close to Oslo.

The International Criminal Court, which is tasked with investigating war crimes in Ukraine, and the International Court of Justice – both based in The Hague – were mentioned as potential winners this year.

As well as the imprisonment of Russian dissident Alexei Navalny and the leader of the Belarusian opposition, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya.

If the panel is to focus on the climate crisis, experts advise Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, possibly with British ecologist David Attenborough or other activists such as Sudan’s Nasreen El-Sim and Ghanaian Shebezi Ezekiel.

bur-map-aco-phy / po / imm

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