UCI College of Medicine researcher Irwin Rose and his two associates from Israel, Aaron Ciechanover and Avram Hershko, were awarded the prestigious 2004 Nobel Prize in Chemistry on Oct. 6.
This is the third Nobel Prize in UCI history after both Frederick Reines and F. Sherwood Rowland were awarded Nobel Prizes for physics and chemistry, respectively, in 1995.
Rose’s research entailed the study of the ubiquitin molecules that mark cells for destruction, giving them the ‘kiss of death’ as the Nobel announcement termed. The cells would then be broken down and recycled by the body. Rose stated in a reception held for him on Oct. 8 in Irvine Hall that everybody knew that cells degraded but ‘nobody had a clue as to how it worked.’
One of the UCI faculty members who aided Rose in his research was chemistry professor James Nowick, who has worked with Rose since 2001.
Nowick said the catalysts for the research were these three questions: ‘Where do proteins go, what happens to them and how do they disappear?’
‘[Rose] discovered that there was an ubiquitiqous, a general pathway in many different organisms that got rid of many unneeded proteins,’ Nowick said.
Nowick illustrated the discovery of the ‘ubiquitiqous’ pathway as finding an ‘undiscovered planet’ in the solar system.
‘It’s so obvious, so fundamental,’ Nowick said.
Regarding how the research would help the community, Thomas C. Cesario, dean of the College of Medicine, stated that it could possibly lead to a cure for cancer.
‘I think [Rose’s research] has a lot of implications, such as curing cancer,’ Cesario said.
A drug named Velcade has already been developed to help treat cancer, but, according to Cesario, ‘[Rose’s work] gives you a target to construct your drugs [to combat diseases].’
Rose discovered that a disruption in the process of ‘the kiss of death’ may lead to cancer, cystic fibrosis and Alzheimer’s disease, among other degenerative diseases. Rose attempted to explain the importance of this finding.
‘The practical applications are too numerous to mention,’ Rose said.
Rose came to UCI in 1997 from the Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia, where he worked since 1963. Rose was born in New York, but grew up in Washington and studied at Washington State College before he served as a radio technician in the U.S. Navy in World War II. Afterwards, he completed his undergraduate and doctoral studies in biochemistry at the University of Chicago.
Before working at Fox Chase, Rose was a faculty member at Yale Medical School in its biochemistry department. He is also a member of the National Academy of Sciences.
At the reception, Rose said that he enjoyed working with the faculty and students of UCI and that ‘this has been a great seven years.’
Chancellor Ralph J. Cicerone was also present at the reception and complimented Rose and his work.
‘It shows that he really understands universities when he stressed the importance, and how much fun interactions are when he talked about interacting with students and other faculty and visitors,’ Cicerone said. ‘Because that is where all the intellectual ferment comes from … and that’s what he does here. He works with a whole bunch of different faculty members.’
Cesario added to the praise of Rose when he said that he was ‘a big contributor to the department.’
UC President Robert C. Dynes said in a UCI press release that, ‘The breakthrough work of Professor Rose will help us create medicines and therapies enabling people to live longer and live better.’
Nowick described Rose as a ‘fantastic human being and a fantastic scientist.’
Dean of the School of Physical Sciences Ronald Stern explained the impact of UCI’s Nobel Prizes on the campus by comparing it to another research university, the University of Souther California, that has been in existence for a longer period of time.
‘UCI has won three Nobel Prizes [since its founding]. USC won one Nobel Prize [since its founding] … USC was founded in the late 1800s, UCI was founded in 1965 … this puts us in the upper echelon of research universities,’ Stern said.
Cesario added, ‘[It brings] enormous distinction to the campus. The campus will bask in the pride of winning this award.’
Even though Rose is 78 years old, Cesario believes that Rose will not retire, but that he will continue his research at UCI.
‘He’s going to bask in the glow of his award but he will never stop his research because he is curious in the field,’ Cesario said.
In addition to the great recognition and fortune that the Nobel Prize in Chemistry brings to Rose, during the reception he also received the ‘Nobel Parking Pass’ from Cicerone that allows Rose to park anywhere at UCI that he likes.