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UW Nobel Winners Began Work With Slap On Back With PM-Nobel-Medicine, Bjt

October 12, 1992

SEATTLE (AP) _ An agreement sealed with a slap on the back set two University of Washington scientists on a lifelong trail that won them the Nobel Prize today and could eventually help lead to a cure for cancer.

Edmond H. Fischer, 72, and Edwin G. Krebs, 74, won the Nobel Prize in medicine for their pioneering work in the 1950s that showed how proteins in cells are turned on and off. They will share the $1.2 million prize.

″You have to understand the mechanism before you can find any cures to problems in the cells,″ Fischer said in a telephone interview.

When he came to the university from his native Switzerland in the early 1950s, Fischer discovered that Krebs was working in his field of research.

The two biochemists wanted to build on the work of Carl and Gertie Cori, U.S. scientists who won the Nobel prize in the 1940s for discovering that a muscle protein existed in active and inactive forms in cells.

″Krebs slapped me on the back and said, ’Let’s take a crack at that problem,‴ Fischer recalled. They have spent the next 40 years at the task.

They were trying to find out how muscles get energy to act when they discovered the on-off switch. They found the first in a class of enzymes that activate proteins by a process called phosphorylation. Other enzymes inactivate proteins.

″We stumbled on it,″ Fischer said. ″We had no idea how widespread this reaction would be. It is one of the most important reactions by which cells are turned on and off. Tens of thousands of reactions in the cell can be regulated. It’s involved in every aspect of cell growth, proliferation, differentiation.″

″It absolutely can lead the trail to a cure for cancer,″ he said.

Krebs said he was ″utterly surprised and in a sort of disbelief.″ He didn’t learn about the award until about five hours after it was announced because he’s hard of hearing and didn’t hear his downstairs telephone, he said.

Both men continue their work as professors emeritus at the university where they have research teams.

Fischer has no plans to quit his work now but will consider slowing down ″in a few years ″ so he can do other things such as play the piano.

He’ll continue along the path of cell transformation or cancer research, he said, while Krebs is concentrating on hormonal regulation in diseases such as diabetes.

Fischer was born in Shanghai, China, the son of an international lawyer from Switzerland. He was educated in Geneva and came to the United States as a tourist. He got so many job offers, he decided to settle here permanently.

His work was driven by a thirst for knowledge, he said, but it has not all been fun.

″Research is very hard,″ he said. ″It is very rewarding when it goes well but many, many times it does not.″

He and his wife, Beverley, 71, have three grown children, none of them scientists. One son is a lawyer, the other an army chaplain and the daughter is married to a doctor. They have two grandchildren.

Krebs has three children, and his wife and two daughters are vacationing in England.

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