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Nobel Prize winner Yoshinori Ohsumi speaks during a press conference at the Tokyo Institute of Technology in Tokyo Monday, Oct. 3, 2016.

The Nobel Prize for medicine went to a scientist who discovered how cells 'eat' themselves

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The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded to a Japanese scientist who made key discoveries in how cells break down and recycle their own parts, a process linked to Parkinson's disease, diabetes and cancer.

Yoshinori Ohsumi, 71, made his pioneering discovery in the 1990s; Nobel prizes are usually delayed to ensure winning research stands the test of time. The process, known as autophagy ("self-eating"), was known for decades, but he was the first to realize the significance when the process was disrupted.

Here's the Nobel committee's announcement.

The first thing he said was 'Ahhh.' He was very, very pleased.
Thomas Perlmann, Nobel committee secretary

Nobel committee secretary Thomas Perlmann said Ohsumi seemed surprised when he was told he had won.

The Karolinska Institute honored Ohsumi in a press release, saying, "Thanks to Ohsumi and others following in his footsteps, we now know that autophagy controls important physiological functions where cellular components need to be degraded and recycled."

Ohsumi called the win the "greatest source of joy" for a scientist.

There is a fine balance between formation and decomposition. That's what life is about.
Yoshinori Ohsumi

More research remains to be done to fully figure out autophagy. The Karolinska Institute said it's working on drugs that directly target autophagy.

Nobel prize medal.jpg
FILE- In this file photo dated Friday, April 17, 2015, a national library employee shows the gold Nobel Prize medal awarded to the late novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez, in Bogota, Colombia. There is no bigger international honor than the Nobel Prize, created by 19th-century Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel, and the 2016 laureates will be named over the coming days to join the pantheon of greats who were honored in years gone by. (AP Photo/Fernando Vergara, FILE)

The Nobel Prize announcements will continue Tuesday with physics, chemistry on Wednesday, peace on Friday, and economics and literature next week. 

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