H. Robert Horvitz
The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2002
Born: 8 May 1947, Chicago, IL, USA
Affiliation at the time of the award: Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Cambridge, MA, USA
Prize motivation: "for their discoveries concerning genetic regulation of organ development and programmed cell death'."
Prize share: 1/3
At the beginning of an organism's life, the number of cells it contains increases rapidly. New cells are formed throughout its lifetime, but cells also die in order to maintain a balance in the number of cells in existence. This process is regulated by genes and is called programmed cell death. Through his studies of the roundworm Caenorhabditis elegans, in 1986, Robert Horvitz identified two of the genes needed for programmed cell death to occur. He later showed that another gene protects against cell death, and also identified genes that regulate how dead cells are removed.