Columbia University Medical Center

Horwitz Awardees Receive 2017 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine

Biological-clock researchers Jeffrey Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael Young won Columbia's Horwitz Prize in 2011.

2017 Nobel Prize winners Michael Rosbash, Michael W. Young and Jeffrey C. Hall with CUMC Dean Lee Goldman at the 2011 Horwitz Award dinner.

Columbia University congratulates Jeffrey C. Hall, PhD, Michael Rosbash, PhD, and Michael W. Young, PhD, on being named recipients of the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. This morning, the Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Institutet announced that this year’s prize will be jointly awarded to the trio for their discoveries of molecular mechanisms controlling the circadian rhythm.

In 2011 Drs. Hall, Rosbash, and Young won Columbia’s Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize, the university’s top honor for achievement in biology and biochemistry research. More than half of the recipients of the Horwitz Prize, awarded since 1967, have gone on to receive a Nobel Prize.

“This is an amazing, well-deserved achievement for these three brilliant scientists. This honor highlights the fundamental importance of circadian biology in human health,” says Mimi Shirasu-Hiza, PhD, assistant professor of genetics and development at Columbia University Medical Center and a researcher of circadian regulation of the immune system. “It should be noted that all three focused on using Drosophila, the simple fruit fly, to unlock the molecular mechanisms underlying circadian biology. Basic science and model organisms remain fundamental to advancing our knowledge.”

The discoveries of Drs. Hall, Robash, and Young explain how plants, animals, and humans adapt their biological rhythm so that it is synchronized with the Earth’s rotation. In 1984, Drs. Hall and Rosbash, working together at Brandeis University, and Dr. Young at Rockefeller University, isolated a gene named period that controls the daily biological rhythm of the fruit fly Drosophila. The groups also showed how molecules maintain the 24-hour clock and adjust it in response to changes in length of the day. Subsequent research in other organisms has verified that the Hall-Rosbash-Young molecular clock mechanism is universal in the biological world.

In humans, our biological clock helps to regulate sleep patterns, feeding behavior, hormone release, blood pressure, and body temperature. Research on circadian rhythm has direct implications for the treatment of conditions including sleep disorders, in which several hereditary forms have been linked to variations of the human period gene.

Visit the Nobel Prize website to learn more about Drs. Hall, Rosbash, and Young, and biological clock research.