In October, a trio of scientists were awarded the Nobel for Physiology or Medicine. They are Drs. William G. Kaelin Jr. at Harvard Medical School, Sir Peter J. Ratcliffe of the Francis Crick Institute, London and Gregg L. Semenza from Johns Hopkins University. They won for �their discoveries of how cells sense and adapt to oxygen availability."
To understand how our cells respond to levels of oxygen in the body, both Dr. Semenza and Dr. Ratcliffe worked with the EPO gene which produces the hormone, erythropoietin. They learned that when oxygen levels are low, this hormone increases the number of red blood cells that carry oxygen throughout our bodies.
The scientists also found the DNA sequences that are responsible for increasing this hormone. In fact, they discovered the protein responsible for activating another protein, HIF which regulates the body response to low oxygen. Dr. Kaelin identified yet another protein, VHL, that�s also essential in this process as well as its ability to prevent cancer from starting. Drs. Kaelin and Ratcliffe also discovered that chemical modification of the HIF protein was the key to how cells sense oxygen.
This work now allows us to understand how our cells� ability to sense and adapt to oxygen affects our muscle performance, fetal development, and cancer. Fundamental scientific discoveries are essential steppingstones to improving human health and shows the value of funding basic research.
For more information…
The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2019
The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2019 was awarded jointly to William G. Kaelin Jr, Sir Peter J. Ratcliffe and Gregg L. Semenza "for their discoveries of how cells sense and adapt to oxygen availability."