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Awards for medicine to kick off week of Nobel decisions


STOCKHOLM, Sweden—With the first Nobel Prize of the year set to be announced Monday, Nobel watchers said possible winners of the physiology or medicine prize could be a pair of British medical researchers who discovered a link between cigarette smoking and cancer or an American microbiologist who broke new ground in the research of cholera.

Speculation rarely proves accurate, however, as the secretive prize committees keep a tight lid on selection proceedings—nominations are not revealed for 50 years. The final decision on the medicine prize is taken by the Nobel Assembly at Stockholm’s Karolinska Institutet, which will announce the winner on Monday, not earlier than 11:30 a.m..

Last year’s prize winners were Briton Sir Peter Mansfield and American Paul C. Lauterbur for discoveries that led to the development of MRI, which is used by doctors to get a detailed look into their patients’ bodies.

This year, the names of British epidemiologists Richard Doll and Richard Peto were bandied about by various Swedish media on Sunday, including the respected daily Dagens Nyheter, as likely winners for their work in linking smoking with cancer.

Doll found and publicized the link in the 1950s, while Peto’s surveys of British doctors in the 1970s shed new light on smoking deaths.

Another possible winner was Rita Colwell, whose work in the 1980s found that the Vibrio cholerae bacteria was more complex, and prevalent, than previously thought.

The intense speculation is generated largely by the fact that the committees behind the awards are so tightlipped about their decisions.

The medicine prize includes a check for 10 million kronor ($1.3 million), but it’s the aura of prestige a Nobel Prize confers that candidates crave most.

There are no set guidelines for deciding who wins. Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite who endowed the awards that bear his name, simply said the winner “shall have made the most important discovery within the domain of physiology or medicine.”

The assembly that selects the medicine prize winner invites nominations from previous recipients, professors of medicine and other professionals worldwide before whittling down its choices in the fall.

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