Israelis Aaron Ciechanover and Avram Hershko and American Irwin Rose have been awarded the 2004 Nobel Prize in chemistry for their research on protein.
The three men were honored by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences for their work in the 1980s that discovered one of the cell's most important processes.
A statement from the academy said their work has made it possible to understand how the cell controls a number of central processes by breaking down certain proteins and not others.
Some of the processes include cell division, DNA repair, quality control of newly produced proteins, and important parts of the immune defense system in the body. Cervical cancer and cystic fibrosis are two examples of illnesses caused when the cell mechanism for breaking down protein does not function properly.
The research efforts of the three Nobel laureates are considered an important step that could lead to the development of drugs against these and other diseases.
The statement announcing the award said biochemistry research into how the cell produces its various proteins has come a long way in the past few years, but there has been comparatively little research into how protein is broken down.
Aaron Ciechanover is director of the Rappaport Family Institute for Research in Medical Sciences at the Technion, in Haifa, Israel. Avram Hershko is a professor there. American Irwin Rose is a specialist at the department of physiology and biophysics at the college of medicine at the University of California in Irvine.
All three will share the $1.3 million cash prize.