2 Japanese honoured in Canada for medical discoveries

2 Japanese honoured in Canada for medical discoveries
Shimon Sakaguchi.

Two Japanese scientists have received Canada Gairdner International Awards, given to those who make top medical discoveries, the Gairdner Foundation announced on Wednesday.

Osaka University Distinguished Prof. Shimon Sakaguchi and Tokyo Institute of Technology Honorary Prof. Yoshinori Osumi were among the five recipients this year. The foundation awards 10,000 Canadian dollars (about ¥9.5 million) to each recipient.

Sakaguchi, 64, discovered regulatory T (Treg) cells, which help maintain order in the immune system. Treg cells suppress the immune system against cancer, and there are now several clinical trials within the area, the foundation said in its description of why Sakaguchi was chosen.

Osumi, 70, is the first person to visually observe the function of autophagy (self-eating), whereby cells clean up the waste within themselves. He also clarified the mechanism of autophagy.

Autophagy is now regarded as a vital cell recycling system, and may aid in future developments to treat neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's, cancer and other age-related conditions.

"Fundamental research is starting to be linked with treatments. I'm honoured to be recognised internationally," said Sakaguchi at a press conference.

Osumi also expressed his happiness at a separate press conference, saying, "I want to share this honour with the staff and students I've been conducting research with."

The Canada Gairdner International Award has also been called a "pre-Nobel prize," as about a quarter of the past recipients have also won the Nobel Prize.

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