Scientists have been trying to use the discovery by Irwin Rose and two other researchers to create medicines to fight cancer. Reuters

Irwin Rose, who won the 2004 Nobel Prize in chemistry along with two collaborators for discovering the way how cells identify and destroy unwanted proteins and transform them into new ones, died Tuesday. The discovery led to the development of new drugs to fight diseases like cervical cancer and cystic fibrosis.

Rose, who was 88, died in his sleep at the house of one of his sons in Deerfield, Massachusetts, according to the University of California, Irvine (UCI), where Rose had been a researcher.

The 2004 Nobel laureate had “formidable intellect and unwavering curiosity about fundamental biological and chemical processes that are the foundation for life,” UCI Chancellor Howard Gillman said in a statement. “We extend our deepest condolences to his family.”

Rose and two other researchers -- Aaron Ciechanover and Avram Hershko of the Israel Institute of Technology -- shared the 2004 Nobel Prize for discovering how cells can regulate the presence of a certain protein by marking old, damaged proteins with a molecule, called the “polypeptide ubiquitin.” Once marked, the proteins are then broken down rapidly in cellular “waste disposers.”

According to scientists, the process can help develop medicines, either to prevent the breakdown of proteins or to assist the cell to destroy disease-causing proteins, the Associated Press (AP) reported.

Rose, who was the third UCI researcher to win a Nobel Prize, was born in Brooklyn, New York, on July 16, 1926. He spent much of his career as a researcher at the Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia, where he had performed his Nobel-winning work during the late 1970s and early 1980s. After retiring to Laguna Woods, California, in 1997, Rose joined UCI as a researcher, and continued to work at a lab on campus.

Rose’s intelligence and knowledge were “in the stratosphere compared to the rest of us in the field,” Ralph Bradshaw, a longtime friend of Rose and a UCI professor emeritus of physiology and biophysics, said in a statement.