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Published on October 24th, 2013 | by ECSWE

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Waldorf Graduate – Thomas Südhof – Shares Nobel Science Prize

The 2013 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine honours three scientists who have solved the mystery of how the cell organizes its transport system and one of the scientists is a Waldorf graduate – Thomas Südhof.

Thomas Südhof was born in Göttingen in 1955 in the aftermath of the second world, into an anthroposophical family. His maternal grandparents had been early followers of Rudolf Steiner’s teaching, and were working for Waldorf schools when Hitler assumed power and banned the anthrophosophical movement. Waldorf schools were closed, and his grandfather was conscripted to work in a chemical munitions factory – it was a miracle he survived the war. His uncle was drafted into the army out of school, and when Thomas was born he had just returned from the Soviet Union after 10 years as a prisoner of war. His parents were physicians, with his father pursuing a career in academic medicine. Thomas spent his childhood in Göttingen and Hannover, and graduated from the Hannover Waldorf School in 1975.

He then studied at the Georg-August-Universität in Göttingen, where he received an MD in 1982 and a Doctorate in neurochemistry the same year. In 1983, he moved to the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, Texas, USA, as a postdoctoral fellow with Michael Brown and Joseph Goldstein (who shared the 1985 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine). Südhof became an investigator of Howard Hughes Medical Institute in 1991 and was appointed Professor of Molecular and Cellular Physiology at Stanford University in 2008.

The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine – 2013

Each cell is a factory that produces and exports molecules. For instance, insulin is manufactured and released into the blood and chemical signals called neurotransmitters are sent from one nerve cell to another. These molecules are transported around the cell in small packages called vesicles. The three Nobel Laureates have discovered the molecular principles that govern how this cargo is delivered to the right place at the right time in the cell.

Randy Schekman discovered a set of genes that were required for vesicle traffic. James Rothman unravelled protein machinery that allows vesicles to fuse with their targets to permit
transfer of cargo.Thomas Südhof revealed how signals instruct vesicles to release their cargo with precision.

Through their discoveries, Rothman, Schekman and Südhof have revealed the exquisitely precise control system for the transport and delivery of cellular cargo. Disturbances in this system have deleterious effects and contribute to conditions such as neurological diseases, diabetes, and immunological disorders.

Thomas Südhof was interested in how nerve cells communicate with one another in the brain. The signalling molecules, neurotransmitters, are released from vesicles that fuse with the outer membrane of nerve cells by using the machinery discovered by Rothman and Schekman. But these vesicles are only allowed to release their contents when the nerve cell signals to its neighbours. How is this release controlled in such a precise manner? Calcium ions were known to be involved in this process and in the 1990s, Südhof searched for calcium sensitive proteins in nerve cells. He identified molecular machinery that responds to an influx of calcium ions and directs neighbour proteins rapidly to bind vesicles to the outer membrane of the nerve cell. The zipper opens up and signal substances are released. Südhof´s discovery explained how temporal precision is achieved and how vesicles´ contents can be released on command.


For more information take a look at the Nobel Prize website here:

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2 Responses to Waldorf Graduate – Thomas Südhof – Shares Nobel Science Prize

  1. Suzanne Levesi says:

    Is there an University ,for Medecine ,in MUNICH ,a Steiner Waldorf University ?
    thank you for answering my question .

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