Bert Sakmann: 1991 - Physiology, Medicine

Bert Sakmann
Bert Sakmann

Year & Category

1991 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine (jointly with Erwin Neher)

Prize motivation

"For their discoveries concerning the function of single ion channels in cells"

At the time of the award he worked at

Max-Planck-Institut für medizinische Forschung, Heidelberg, Federal Republic of Germany

About his research

Munich, London, Göttingen
When he first got to know Erwin Neher at the Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry in Munich at the end of the 1960s, the young Bert Sakmann was already regarded as a specialist in the field of ion channel physiology. This was a challenging field since it had not yet been proven that ion channels existed at all, something that Sakmann and Neher succeeded in doing a few years later. Initially, however, the paths of the two researchers separated. In 1971 Sakmann moved from Munich to London, where he gained valuable experience in cellular biophysics under Sir Bernard Katz, the winner of the 1970 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. Following his return to Germany, Bert Sakmann worked with Erwin Neher at the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry in Göttingen.

Medical research in Florida
There, in 1976, the researchers successfully developed the patch clamp technique, which uses a “clamp” to position a measuring device on a minute patch of a cell membrane. It enabled them not only to prove the existence of ion channels, but also to measure the time and amplitude of ion currents. This has facilitated the development of pharmaceutical drugs, such as heart medicines, that act on ion channels. Bert Sakmann is still engaged in medical research – for example, at the Max Planck Florida Institute, where he is active, among other things, in basic research into Alzheimer’s disease.