Life Science Research on how cells adapt to oxygen earns trio Nobel Prize for medicine

Research on how cells adapt to oxygen earns trio Nobel Prize for medicine

A Nobel Assembly member explains the research of the 2019 Nobel Prize winners in Physiology or Medicine at Stockholm, Sweden on Monday. Photo: AFP/Getty
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Two scientists from the United States and one from Britain won the 2019 Nobel Prize for medicine for finding how cells adapt to fluctuating oxygen levels, paving the way for new strategies to fight diseases such as anaemia and cancer.

The Nobel award-giving body said US-born researchers William Kaelin and Gregg Semenza shared the prize equally with Peter Ratcliffe, who was born in Britain.

“The seminal discoveries by this year’s Nobel laureates revealed the mechanism for one of life’s most essential adaptive processes,” the Nobel Assembly at Sweden’s Karolinska Institute said in a statement on awarding the prize of nine million kronor ($1.35 million).

Their research established the basis for the understanding of how oxygen levels affect cellular metabolism and physiological functions, the institute said.

“Oxygen sensing is central to a large number of diseases,” it said.

“Intense ongoing efforts in academic laboratories and pharmaceutical companies are now focused on developing drugs that can interfere with different disease states by either activating, or blocking, the oxygen-sensing machinery.”

Medicine is the first of the Nobel Prizes awarded each year.

Gregg Semenza, Peter Ratcliffe and William Kaelin are recognised on a screen at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm. Photo: AFP/Getty

The prizes for achievements in science, peace and literature have been awarded since 1901 and were created in the will of dynamite inventor and businessman Alfred Nobel.

Nobel medicine laureates have included scientific greats such as Alexander Fleming, the discoverer of penicillin, and Karl Landsteiner, who identified separate blood types and so enabled safe transfusions to be widely introduced.

In 2018, American James Allison and Japanese Tasuku Honjo won the prize for discoveries about how to harness the immune system in cancer therapies.