Alexander Varshavsky discovered the mechanisms involved in the major system responsible for regulating protein degradation in biological systems and their critical importance.
Cells cannot survive without the turnover of proteins. Varshavsky showed how ubiquitin, a small 76 amino acid protein, is attached to other proteins, marking them for destruction. Moreover, he discovered much of the machinery by which this occurs. This system is essential for normal cellular functions, ranging from the control of gene transcription, protein synthesis and DNA repair, to cell division and response to stress.
Many of the components that regulate the ubiquitin system have subsequently been found to be defective in a wide range of diseases, such as cancer, those of the immune system, for example multiple myeloma, and neurodegeneration, including Parkinson’s disease. It is likely that drugs that target components of the system will be of wide significance in medicine.