You are kidding me.”

American geneticist and chronobiologist Michael Rosbash, PhD, was surprised to learn he was selected to receive a Nobel Prize this year, along with Jeffrey C. Hall, PhD, and Michael W. Young, PhD, for “their discoveries of molecular mechanisms controlling the circadian rhythm.”

The international award for outstanding discoveries in life sciences and medicine, officially, the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, honors researchers who have left lasting contributions in efforts to improve human and animal health. This year’s winners—whose work with fruit flies led them to conclusions about how living organisms adapt their biological rhythms to sync with the movement of our planet (around its axis and around the sun)—are no exception.

Scientists who study biological/circadian cycles, which determine the sleeping and feeding patterns of all animals, say these findings will have a major influence on their work to better understand and treat conditions ranging from Alzheimer’s and depression to heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. And in their use of fruit flies to model circadian rhythms, which enabled them to isolate the gene associated with biological cycles and uncover the self-sustaining machinery within the cell, the scientists find company in past Nobel laureates who made other important discoveries through research with the insect.

Foundation for Biomedical Research (FBR) President Matthew R. Bailey explains the important role of research with animals—including fruit flies, but also larger and more complex species—in Nobel-winning scientific and medical discoveries past and present. Of the 108 award recipients in the physiology or medicine category, beginning with first prize awarded in 1901 to a German scientist who developed the diphtheria vaccine by working with horses, 96 used animal models in their research.

“Researchers in the U.S. and around the world are working hard every day to understand fundamental questions about biology,” said Bailey. “Whether through research with fruit flies, mice, or nonhuman primates, unlocking the mysteries of life benefits us all—including our beloved pets. Opponents to animal research would have the public believe all of this work can be replaced with non-animal simulators, but breakthroughs like these simply aren’t discovered in a computer.”

FBR congratulates Drs. Rosbash, Hall, and Young for both their exciting discoveries and their well-deserved recognition by the Nobel Committee for pioneering work that will further efforts to improve human and animal health. As their findings begin to illuminate new avenues and approaches to better understanding the complex diseases and conditions that affect living organisms, FBR looks forward to reporting future discoveries that will also rely, substantially, on research with animals.

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