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Nobel Prize in Physiology/ Medicine 2019

  • 15 Oct 2019
  • 2 min read

The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for 2019 was jointly awarded to William G. Kaelin, Sir Peter J. Ratcliffe, and Gregg L. Semenza, for ‘their discoveries on how cells sense and adapt to oxygen availability.’

  • The discovery by scientists aims to identify the molecular machinery that regulates the activity of genes in response to varying levels of oxygen and understand how underlying cells adapt to such variations in oxygen supply.
  • Gregg L. Semenza was awarded the Prize for the discovery of hypoxia-inducible factor 1 (HIF-1) protein.
    • This protein is responsible for switching genes on and off in response to low oxygen levels in the cells.
  • Sir Peter J. Ratcliffe (Professor at Oxford University), earned his share of the Prize for discovering a mechanism common to all cells of the human body.
    • When oxygen levels are low in the cells, this mechanism signals the kidneys to produce more red blood cells, which carry the vital molecule throughout the body.
  • William G. Kaelin (Professor at Harvard University) received the Prize for his work investigating a genetic syndrome called Von Hippel-Lindau’s (VHL) disease.
    • He found that the gene behind VHL encodes for a protein that seems to prevent cancer, and was implicated in its response to low oxygen levels.
    • This discovery was eventually tied to HIF-1 and gave potential understanding to treat a range of conditions like cancer, diabetes, and coronary artery disease.
  • The scientists focused on developing drugs that could treat diseases by either activating or blocking the body’s oxygen-sensing machinery.
    • For example, the oxygen response is confiscated by cancer cells which stimulates the formation of blood vessels to help themselves grow.
  • This work by scientists has paved the way for new strategies to fight anemia, cancer, and other diseases.

Source: TH

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