William Kaelin, Jr. Awarded 2019 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine

William Kaelin, Jr. Awarded 2019 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine”

The three scientists, working independently, revealed the cascade of molecular events that allow cells to detect and respond to different levels of oxygen.

Their work has shed new light on the specific, cell-level processes the body undergoes when low on oxygen - from helping our muscles function during exercise to adapting to life at high altitude.

A Harvard doctor and researcher at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute was one of three scientists awarded the 2019 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine early Monday morning.

Hope to chat again tomorrow at the announcement of the Nobel Prize in Physics.

Semenza, also born in NY, 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.

Kaelin, who became an HHMI Investigator at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in 1998, was born in NY in 1957.

"My heart was racing in disbelief", Kaelin said.

The importance of oxygen has always been established, the committee explained, but how cells adapt to changes in its levels remained unknown.

"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", he said.

The scientists worked separately to understand this mechanism in cells, but they talked and occasionally shared unpublished data - sometimes at a scientific meeting, sometimes at the bar, Kaelin said. "She transmitted the wonder and joy of science and scientific discovery".

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"We submitted to these so-called top-tier journals".

Semenza said it is likely one or more of these drugs will be approved in the next few years.

Today, some of the most exciting applications of the research are in cancer. In particular, report Gina Kolata and Megan Specia at the New York Times, the cancers are associated with overproduction of blood vessels and increased production of EPO.

"It's fantastic research that they've done", Eamonn Maher, geneticist at the University of Cambridge who has collaborated with Kaelin and Ratcliffe, tells The Scientist. Those hardy cells that survive can metastasize to seed new cancers, one of the biggest challenges facing patients and oncologists.

Using gene-modified mice, Semenza and his team found that bits of DNA next to the EPO gene were responsible for mediating the body's response to oxygen levels.

"I like to think she's smiling down and nodding and saying, 'I told you, I told you this was going to happen'".

Paul Nurse, Director of the Francis Crick Institute, said: 'Many congratulations to Peter on this well-deserved recognition of his ground-breaking research.

Trained as a kidney specialist, Ratcliffe said his research began when he and colleagues simply wanted to figure out how cells sense oxygen. Kaelin and Semenza both received funding from the National Institutes of Health. I've had great support from so many people over the years. "He took a clinical problem and through incredibly rigorous science figured it out".

"All three of them won the Lasker it wasn't too surprising that they won the Nobel Prize today", says Schumacker.

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