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October 7, 2013

Haverhill native shares Nobel Prize in medicine

STOCKHOLM (AP) — Americans James Rothman and Randy Schekman and German-born researcher Thomas Sudhof won the 2013 Nobel Prize in medicine on Monday for discoveries on how hormones, enzymes and other key substances are transported within cells.

Rothman was born in Haverhill, Mass.

This traffic control system keeps activities inside cells from descending into chaos and has helped researchers gain a better understanding of a range of diseases including diabetes and disorders affecting the immune system, the committee said.

Working in the 1970s, '80s and '90s, the three researchers made groundbreaking discoveries about how tiny bubbles called vesicles act as cargo carriers inside cells. Above all, their work helps explain "how this cargo is delivered to the right place at the right time" the committee said.

"Imagine hundreds of thousands of people who are traveling around hundreds of miles of streets; how are they going to find the right way? Where will the bus stop and open its doors so that people can get out?" Nobel committee secretary Goran Hansson said. "There are similar problems in the cell."

The discoveries have helped doctors diagnose a severe form of epilepsy and immune deficiency diseases in children, Hansson said. In the future, scientists hope the research could lead to medicines against more common types of epilepsy, diabetes and other metabolism deficiencies, he added.

Rothman, 62, is a professor at Yale University, while Schekman, 64, is at the University of California, Berkeley. Sudhof, 57, joined Stanford University in 2008.

Schekman said he was awakened at 1 a.m. at his home in California by the chairman of the prize committee and was still suffering from jetlag after returning from a trip to Germany the night before.

"I wasn't thinking too straight. I didn't have anything elegant to say," he told The Associated Press. "All I could say was 'Oh my God,' and that was that."

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