Nobel Prize for Medicine awarded to British scientist exploring how oxygen reacts within cells

Nobel Prize for Medicine awarded to British scientist exploring how oxygen reacts within cells

Three Scientists, including one Briton, have been awarded The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their research into how cells detect oxygen and react to ‘hypoxia’, the conditions when oxygen is low in tissues.

The work is a major breakthrough into human understanding of the way oxygen works within cells and how it impacts healing and the creation of red blood cells.

The three new Nobel laureates are William Kaelin Jr. at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, Peter Ratcliffe of the University of Oxford, and Gregg Semenza of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland.

The work has led to a better understanding of how more than 300 genes in the body are regulated, including the one for the hormone erythropoietin (EPO), which controls the production of red blood cells.

One of the main goals of the field now is to show that the knowledge can be used to help patients. Many drugs are being developed to alter the response of this system to treat everything from cancer to anemia.

Randall Johnson of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, was on the prize selection committee, he said; “Applications of these findings are already beginning to affect how medicine is practiced.”

Amato Giaccia, cancer researcher at the University of Oxford said; “How oxygen is sensed by both normal tissues and tumors is an incredibly important discovery that is highly deserving of a Nobel Prize. It’s a fundamental aspect of nature. Many of the genes that are turned on when oxygen is scarce are also turned on in tumor cells.”

Celeste Simon, a cellular biologist at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine, said; “Oxygen limitation is a part of virtually all diseases, not just solid tumors or stroke, but inflammation, wound healing, peripheral arterial disease. All of these involve decreased oxygen.”

Read detailed accounts of the medical theory behind the award at The New Scientist

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