The 2019 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine was jointly awarded Monday to two New Yorkers and a British scientist who discovered how the body’s cells sense and adapt to different oxygen levels – a finding the Nobel Committee credited with paving the way for “promising new strategies to fight anemia, cancer and many other diseases.”
The new laureates are Sir Peter Ratcliffe, of the Francis Crick Institute and Oxford University in Britain, and New York-born Drs. William Kaelin Jr., of Harvard University, and Gregg Semenza, of Johns Hopkins University.
The committee said in a news release that the role oxygen plays in converting food into energy has been understood for centuries, but the American-British trio identified a molecular process that regulates the activity of genes in reaction to varying levels of oxygen.
“Thanks to the groundbreaking work of these Nobel Laureates, we know much more about how different oxygen levels regulate fundamental physiological processes,” the committee wrote.
The committee said other examples of the oxygen-sensing machinery include the generation of new blood vessels, the production of red blood cells and many other physiological functions.
The three scientists will share a nearly $1 million award for their contribution, according to the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, where the medicine Nobel Prize was presented.
Besides teaching at John Hopkins, Semenza is the director of the Vascular Research Program at the university.
Kaelin, who teaches at Harvard, also runs his own research lab at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and is an investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.
Ratcliffe is the director of clinical research at Francis Crick Institute in London and the director for the Target Discovery Institute at Oxford.