Günter Blobel’s speech at the Nobel Banquet, December 10, 1999
Your Majesties, Members of the Nobel Assembly, Distinguished Guests,
I am greatly honored having been selected this year’s Nobel Laureate in Physiology and Medicine. I would like to thank my teachers for their guidance and my coworkers for their inspiration and hard work.
This Nobel Prize in Medicine is the last one of this century. It is tempting to look back and to the future.
This outgoing century has brought us such medical benefits as antibiotics, hormones, growth factors and a large number of drugs that prevent untimely death. We have seen the beginning of effective antiviral drugs. And some viral diseases, such as pox and polio have been eradicated altogether, through effective vaccines. Surgery has made dramatic inroads allowing repair and replacement of some organs.
In basic research, the use of the electron microscope has revealed to us the complex universe of the cell, the basic unit of life. DNA has been discovered as the genetic material. The information transfer from DNA via mRNA to proteins has been worked out. The DNA sequences of some lower forms of life have been deciphered. A great deal has been learned about cell communication. The universal nature of cellular structure and organization in bacteria, plant and animal cells has been discovered. The structure of many cellular macromolecules has been revealed at the atomic level using x-ray crystallography.
And the next century? What does it promise in Medicine?
The human DNA sequence will be completed within the next few years. DNA sequences of individuals will reveal their disposition for diseases. The greatest challenge will be to understand the function of the proteins that the DNA is coding for in the context of the cell and the organism. Mathematics will play an important role in analyzing the wealth of information. And non-invasive physical techniques will be important tools. The tremendous acquisition of basic knowledge will allow a much more rational treatment of cancer, viral infections, degenerative diseases and, most importantly, mental diseases.
An important task of scientists in the next century will be to help in educating and enlightening the public to erase unfounded fears and to highlight the tremendous benefits of science. Education will also be necessary to secure public support for research. The Nobel Prize, by spotlighting major advances in science, has helped a great deal in this important task.