Medicine Nobel prize jointly awarded to William Kaelin, Sir Peter Ratcliffe & Gregg Semenza for work on cellular hypoxia.
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The 2019 Nobel Prize for Medicine has been jointly awarded to William Kaelin Jr., Sir Peter Ratcliffe and Gregg Semenza for their pioneering research into how human cells respond to changing oxygen levels.
Announcing the prize at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm on Monday, the Nobel committee said that the trio's discoveries have paved the way for "promising new strategies to fight anaemia, cancer and many other diseases."
The 2019 medicine laureates, the committee added, have identified molecular machinery that regulates the activity of genes in response to varying levels of oxygen.
The importance of oxygen has long been established, the committee explained, but how cells adapt to changes in its levels remained unknown.
Randall Johnson, prize committee member, described the trio's work as a "textbook discovery."
"This is something basic biology students will be learning about when they study, at aged 12 or 13, or younger, biology and learn the fundamental ways cells work. This is a basic aspect of how a cell works and, from that standpoint alone, it's a very exciting thing."
New York-born Kaelin established his own research laboratory at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston and became a full professor at Harvard Medical School in 2002.
Semenza, also born in New York, became a full-time professor at Johns Hopkins University in 1999 and since 2003 has been the Director of the Vascular Research Program at the Johns Hopkins Institute for Cell Engineering.
Ratcliffe, who was born in Lancashire, England, studied medicine at Cambridge University and established an independent research group at Oxford University, becoming a full professor in 1996.
Oxygen is essential to life because it plays a key role in converting food into a useful form of energy for cells. When cells don’t have a good supply of oxygen, they deploy strategies to improve it.
One such strategy is releasing a hormone that boosts the production of red blood cells, which carry oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body. The Nobel laureates identified the intricate molecular pathways that switch these strategies on when oxygen is low and switches them off when oxygen levels are normal.
These discoveries have provided researchers with new routes to approach certain diseases. In cancer, for example, tumor cells use the oxygen-sensing mechanism to form new blood vessels, to ensure their own oxygen supply. Blocking that process in tumor cells could thwart their ability to get more oxygen and proliferate. The Nobel committee said that “intense ongoing efforts” by laboratories and drug companies are now focused on developing drugs that either activate or block the oxygen-sensing machinery to treat disease.
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