In 2022, Science Magazine awarded their Science Breakthrough of the Year to the NASA JW Space Telescope. In the time since, we have been mesmerized by the many new picture of our vast cosmos. Since ancient humans gazed up into the stars, we have always wondered what was out there in the universe, and we can find our fascination with the final frontier in our mythology, both from ages past and in contemporary science fiction. As humanity looks to return to the moon and establish further presence on Mars and beyond, let's take a look at our search for extraterrestrial life, if it is out there...or should I say, it's most likely out there!
The dream of biomedical researchers is to fine-tune their therapeutics to precisely target the specific illness or pathogen affecting their patient. Ever since Nobel laureate and oft-quoted father of immunology, Paul Ehrlich, coined the term “magic bullet,” medical science has marched towards more personalized drugs that target key molecules that cause diseases including cancer. 1 We find ourselves now, over a century later, in an exciting era of discovery that has produced many antibody drug conjugates (ADC) designed to precisely target the diseased cells and not healthy cells. ADC uses this strategy to take advantage of the specificity of antibodies while delivering a covalently linked cytotoxic payload directly to diseased tissues to reduce the multitudes of side effects and toxicity. 2, 3 As basic research identifies more targets and antibody engineering procedures improve, the range of antitumor and anti-disease weapons may seem limitless.
I am immensely proud of being an alumnus of the University of California at Berkeley, where I was able to get a world class education and have opportunities to meet with and learn from superb professors, some of whom have since earned Nobel Prizes. Those were some of the most fun years of my life and I also appreciated the beautiful, sprawling campus with lots of fantastic architecture and wide-open green spaces to lounge around on and play catch with my friend every now and then. It is mere coincidence that the day this article published is also Marian Koshland's birthday, and it got me thinking about Koshland Hall, one of the newer (now old, because so am I) buildings when I started college, and which Koshland it was actually named after.
Having worked in a proteomics lab for my PhD dissertation, I had some familiarity with the tools and strategies used to study biology on a systems level. One of the concepts I was always interested in was the ability to just follow a protein's journey throughout the cell, from the time it is translated by the ribosome to its final destination either within an organelle or when it is secreted into the extracellular space. At the time I was finishing up, I wasn't sure that the technology was yet advanced enough to make that a reality, particularly if done within a single cell. But within the past few years, a new era of spatial proteomics has emerged to allow us to observe cell biology in a whole new light.
Just a few short weeks after the highly irreverent yet still important Ig Nobel Ceremony, the science community recognized the cream of its crop with the 2023 Nobel Prizes in the first full week of October. The dates for the official announcements are aligned with their usual order throughout the years, always announcing Physiology and Medicine first, then Physics, then Chemistry. The Nobel Committee will transition toward the Literature and Peace prizes to round out the week before Economics is announced on the following Monday. As usual, these prizes recognize a lifetime of work that has given the greatest benefit to humanity. Click the links to check out some of our picks for greatest Nobel science achievements as well a look at last year's Nobel winners, but here we go for this year's running tally of scientific legend.
I recall a time many moons ago when I first started my graduate journey at Duke. I was doing one of my final rotations before joining a thesis lab, and I was sitting in a lab meeting where the group was discussing a particular surface marker on immune cells. Apparently this marker (long since forgot which one) could be cleaved and the "shedding" effect led to normal immune function. So silly young me who didn't know asked, "So what happens if you can't cleave it?" At that point one of the research professors said, "Well that's a stupid question" but in a way that was more bemused than malicious, as it turns out that was the thesis project for the postdoc in the lab who was training me. Other than the part where I probably should have known that was her entire project for like six years, I had stumbled upon my first "stupid" question that actually led to tangible answers that contributed to our understanding of science. Not that I actually did the work here, mind you, but someone else also asked that question and decided to answer it for themselves. I've long since forgotten the mechanism or the phenotype of the mouse that couldn't shed that marker, but the core memory stuck with me and shaped the way I approached students and education, because while questions might seem dumb, they at least always make you think.