Israelis Receive Nobel Prize for Chemistry

Avraham Hershko and Aharon Ciechanover of the Technion Institute are the first Israelis to win most prestigious prize in the scientific world.

Professors Avraham Hershko and Aharon Ciechanover received on Friday the Nobel Prize for chemistry at a ceremony in Sweden's capital.

The two arrived in Stockholm at the beginning of the week for the "Nobel Week" of lectures and receptions.

This is the first time Israelis have won the most prestigious prize in the scientific world. The ceremony will be broadcast live on Channel 1.

Research by the three is probing how the human body gives the "kiss of death" to faulty proteins to defend itself from diseases like cancer.

Ciechanover, 57, Hershko, 67 - the first Israelis to win a chemistry prize - and Irwin Rose, 78, were honored by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences for their work in the 1980s that discovered one of the cell's most important cyclical processes, regulated protein degradation.

The scientists will share the prize of $1.25 million with Prof. Irwin Rose of the University of California.

Ciechanover is director of the Rappaport Family Institute for Research in Medical Sciences at the Technion in Haifa, while Hershko, originally from Hungary, is a professor at the institute.

Rose is a specialist at the department of physiology and biophysics at the college of medicine at the University of California-Irvine.

Laureates warn on state of Israel's education system In an impromptu news conference at Hershko's house, the two scientists cautioned against the state of Israel's education system.

"Israel will always have limited resources so we have to focus on the important, innovative and ground breaking things," said Hershko, adding that "we couldn't do such things while the education system is collapsing."

Professor Ciechanover was sterner in his criticism.

"Israel's academia is in a bad state. The Technion suffers badly from financial difficulties," Ciechanover said of his home institution, adding that he envied the American universities' budgets.

The winning of a Noble prize by Israelis was a rare event he said.

'We don't have oil, uranium or diamonds. Israel depends on its academia. All we have - the Israel Defense Forces, Rafael [the Armament Development Authority] and the high-tech industry - depends on what we have in our heads," Ciechanover said.

"Cutting off this head is an act of suicide," he said.

Ciechanover emphasized that the Noble prize winning research work had started 35 years ago, and that its development took ten years.

"It takes years to train scientists to reach achievments. Scientists' time table is different from that of politicians. Hurting scientists will cost us a lot in the future," he warned.

Trio's work highly relevant for cancer research Ciechanover and Hershko found that proteins that could cause disease are "labeled" for destruction with a molecule called ubiquitin which dispatches them to the body's "waste disposal" units, called proteasomes.

The marked proteins are then chopped to pieces. When such degradation fails to work correctly, the result can be diseases like cervical cancer and cystic fibrosis. So research in this area may lead to new drugs for those diseases and others, the academy said.

"We are not a building that stays still, we are all the time exchanging our proteins, synthesising and destroying them," said an elated Ciechanover. "Some proteins get spoilt. We discovered the process by which the body exercises quality control."

Lars Thelander of the Nobel Committee for Chemistry said the trio's work was highly relevant for cancer research. Ciechanover said it had already "led to development of numerous drugs for degenerative diseases and malignancies that big pharmaceutical companies are busy working on."

In a conference call with the academy after the prize was announced, Ciechanover said the process will help introduce new medicines that can fight cancer and other diseases.

Hershko warned, however, that although the team's research has resulted in the approval of one drug, it does not mean that the professors have discovered a wonder drug for cancer.

Ciechanover said he was overwhelmed at winning the prize.

"I have never thought of money, we earn very small salaries in Israel," he said. "It is more the honor for Israel, for myself, that a small country can make it... I am as proud for myself as I am for my country."

The chemistry prize is the first Nobel chemistry prize to be awarded to somebody from Israel - but not the first Nobel Prize.

In 1978, then-Prime Minister Menachem Begin shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Egyptian President Anwar Sadat. In 1994, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin shared the peace prize with Yasser Arafat.

In 1966, Shmuel Yosef Agnon shared the literature prize with Swedish writer Nelly Sachs.