One of the aspects of my host university, Karolinska Institutet, that attracts so many great minds is that the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. It is awarded each year by the Nobel Assembly formed by university faculty. While the winners of the prize are notified earlier in October, the actual prize itself is given out on the tenth of December, which is the anniversary of the death of Alfred Nobel. During the week leading up to the ceremony, the winners give a special lecture here on campus.
This year the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine has been given to Dr. James P. Allison from the United States and Dr. Tasuku Honjo from Japan. Both of them have made great contributions to the field of cancer research. Specifically, they have discovered markers that can suppress the immune system in some cancer patients. By developing antibodies to block the function of these markers, the patient’s immune system function can improve and help combat cancer more effectively. Their findings created what is known now as immune checkpoint therapy, which can be applied in a variety of cancer types such as melanoma, lung cancer, and lymphoma. Most importantly, these scientists have demonstrated a method to manage cancer in a novel way and have laid the groundwork for research into other immune checkpoint markers to treat other types of cancer.
The Nobel Prize was established by none other than Alfred Nobel who was a Stockholmer himself. Growing up in a family of engineers, he also became an inventor (most famously of dynamite!) and scientist amassing a sizable fortune throughout his lifetime. He decided in his will that he wanted to create a prize to award people who had made great contributions to society in the fields of physics, chemistry, peace, physiology or medicine, and literature. After some squabbling over the validity of the will, the Nobel foundation was set up to manage the assets and the first prize was awarded in 1901 to Emil von Behring who developed a vaccine against a bacterial infection called diphtheria.
The Nobel laureates participate in a ceremony held at the Stockholm Concert Hall on December 10th where they are given a gold medal, a diploma, and nine million Swedish kronor (approximately 992,475 USD) in prize money. The medal is awarded by Karolinska Institutet and the diploma is awarded directly by the King of Sweden. In the case of multiple laureates (as is the case this year), the prize money may be split between the winners. After the ceremony, there is a very opulent Nobel Banquet held at Stadshuset (Stockholm City Hall) in the Blue Hall. Many well known members of Swedish society attend including the Royal Family, the Prime Minister, other government members, and members of the Nobel Family. This event is something that the Swedish people are especially proud to host and be a part of. I encourage anyone visiting Stockholm to spend some time at the Nobel museum in order to learn more about this historic tradition!
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