Statement by Research!America President and CEO Mary Woolley on Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine
Research!America congratulates this year’s Nobel Prize winners in physiology or medicine, Professor John O’Keefe of the University College London, and May-Britt and Edvard Moser, both of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. Their discoveries of cells that provide the basis for how the brain maps surrounding space, allowing us to navigate complex environments, may lead to a better understanding of diseases such as Alzheimer’s, which afflicts 44 million people worldwide. O’Keefe, who as a postdoctoral fellow was supported by funding from the National Institutes of Health, made the first discovery of the brain’s “inner GPS” in 1971. The Mosers continued to develop his research, discovering another key component of the brain’s mapping system which shed more light on our ability to navigate. Although their work is being honored with one of the greatest recognitions in science, the discovery was initially dismissed and considered inconsequential. Their achievements are a testament to the importance of basic research that, while it may not demonstrate immediate benefits to human health, can lead to a greater understanding of deadly disease to assure more award-winning discoveries that can potentially save lives. If we are to continue to see progress in overcoming disease, it is vital that our elected representatives pledge to make investments in research a very high national priority.