Five major breakthroughs in cell death research

1858: First definition of necrosis

The term necrosis was coined by the German doctor Rudolph Virchow, who is considered to be the father of modern medicine after he introduced a scientific approach and refuted the theory of the four body fluids. He described and named necrosis in his work.

1972: Apoptosis described

Apoptosis was presented by the Australian pathologist John F R Kerr, who observed a new type of cell death that went through two stages: first in the cell nucleus and then in the cytoplasm. He first called this shrinking necrosis, but he later named it apoptosis in 1972.

1985: Identification of death genes

The American researcher Robert Horvitz identified genes in the worm C. elegans that were responsible for programmed cell death. The human counterparts of these genes were later identified. Robert Horvitz was among the researchers who were given the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine in 2002.

1989: Tumour suppressor gene found

The American researcher Bert Vogelstein showed that the gene TP53, which encodes the protein p53, was mutated in a number of different types of cancer. The P53 protein is known as the "guardian of the genome" because its function is to determine whether DNA damage should be repaired or if the cell should go into apoptosis.

1999: Autophagy and cancer linked

The American researcher Beth Levine showed that the autophagy-associated gene beclin-1 played a role in the inhibition of breast cancer cells, which has resulted in several substances that affect the autophagy process now being tested as potential drugs against cancer.

Sources: Boris Zhivotovsky, "Falling leaves: a survey of the history of apoptosis" Minerva Medica 2004, each researcher's work, Wikipedia, National Encyclopedia.

The text was first published in Swedish in the magazine Medicinsk Vetenskap issue 2, 2014.