Research on how cells use oxygen wins ‘2019 Nobel Medicine Prize’

Photo: Solis Invicti | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Three brilliant scientists will be awarded the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine this year for their groundbreaking work in trying to understand how cells behave in the presence (or the lack) of oxygen. The scientists work on hypoxia, or the condition of cells having low oxygen supply lays the fundamental understanding of “how cells sense and adapt to oxygen availability.”

The Nobel Committee announced Monday that this year’s Nobel Medicine Prize would be shared by William G. Kaelin, Jr, Peter J. Ratcliffe, and Gregg L. Semenza. The three laureates will share the 9 million kronor ($918,000) cash award equally. The three laureates are from different medical and scientific institutions. Kaelin is currently associated with Harvard University, Semenza is with Johns Hopkins University, and Ratcliffe hails from Francis Crick Institute in Britain.

The Nobel Prize is considered as the world’s most prestigious distinction awarded to individuals or groups for their pioneering and groundbreaking work in different fields. The Nobel Prize recognizes brilliant minds in the field of literature, physiology or medicine, chemistry, physics, economics, and peace. This year’s recipient of the Nobel Medicine Prize marks the 110th medical work to be awarded by the prestigious body. The body has started awarding promising works in physiology and medicine since 1901.

The discovery made by the three “have fundamental importance for physiology and have paved the way for promising new strategies to fight anemia, cancer, and many other diseases,” said the Karolinska Institute.

The Nobel Committee said during the announcement of the Medicine Prize that the work made by the three researchers has “greatly expanded our knowledge of how physiological response makes life possible.” The Committee said that Semenza, Ratcliffe, and Kaelin found “the molecular switch for how to adapt” in varying availability of oxygen.

The Committee noted that understanding how cells react to the availability of oxygen is very important as it is the main function of life, and the fundamental job for cells is to convert oxygen to food. They also highlighted in their announcement that cells and tissue often experience changes in oxygen availability.

The three winners were personally contacted by Thomas Perlmann, the secretary of the Nobel Committee at the Karolinska Institute. The three, together with other Nobel laureates for this year, will be honored in an awarding ceremony on December 10th to commemorate the anniversary of Alfred Nobel, the founding father of the award.

The announcement of the three winners for Nobel Medicine prize on Monday marks the official start of this year’s Nobel week. Other laureates are expected to be proclaimed throughout the week.

On Tuesday, the Nobel Committee will be announcing the recipient of the Nobel Physics Prize, which will be followed by the winner for the Chemistry prize the following day. The Literature Prize will be announced and awarded on Thursday, and the Peace Prize will be handed out on Friday.

This year’s announcement of the Literature Prize is interesting as it is said that the Committee will be awarding two laureates – one for 2019 and another for 2018. Last year, the announcement of the Nobel Literature Prize was suspended due to a scandal involving the Swedish Academy. Earlier reports suggest that the Committee is planning to award the 2018 laureate this year together with the 2019 recipient.

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