Several researchers whose work is relevant to autism may be among the recipients of this year’s Nobel Prizes in physiology, medicine, and chemistry, according to a report this month by Spectrum News.
One possible recipient is Stanford University researcher Karl Deisseroth, one of the creators of a technique called optogenetics, that uses flashes of light to turn neurons on or off. Diesseroth has used the tool to show that turning the neurons on or off can ease social difficulties in mice missing the top autism gene CNTNAP2. Dutch researchers Hans Clevers might be a recipient for identifying key components of a signaling pathway called WNT, which has strong ties to cancer and autism.
Other potential winners include scientists involved in creating tools for DNA sequencing. These include Marvin Caruthers at the University of Colorado in Boulder, Leroy Hood at the Institute for Systems Biology in Seattle, Washington, and Michael Hunkapiller at Pacific Biosciences in Menlo Park, California. Their work has shed valuable insight into the genetics of autism by making it possible to sequence the genomes of autistic people and their families.
The creators of the gene-editing tool CRISPR, which has been instrumental in creating mice, rats, and monkeys with mutations in top autism genes, might also be Nobel recipients this year.
In its report, Spectrum cited an online poll conducted by Sigma Xi, the Scientific Research Honor Society. According to the poll, one potential Nobel winner is Harvard University’s Stuart Schreiber, who uncovered the mTOR pathway, which is connected to autism, cancer, metabolism, and immunology. James Thomson, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, might also be a recipient due to pioneering the use of stem cells in research. As noted by Spectrum, stem cells have played an important role in studying lab grown neurons derived from people with autism.