The Nobel Prize in Medicine has been awarded to three scientists for their work on how cells in the human body adapt to changing levels of oxygen.
The Nobel Assembly at the Karolinska Institutet awarded the prize jointly to William G. Kaelin Jr, Sir Peter J. Ratcliffe and Gregg L. Semenza at a ceremony in Stockholm on Monday.
Their pioneering research, which spans more than two decades, uncovered the process behind “one of life’s most essential adaptive processes,” said a press release by the Nobel Committee.
“Their discoveries have also paved the way for promising new strategies to fight anaemia, cancer and many other diseases,” the committee added.
Their work focuses on how cells in the body sense a change in oxygen availability and regulate genes to respond accordingly. As levels of oxygen decrease, the levels of a protein complex called HIF rise. This then increases the activity of a gene used in the production of erythropoietin (EPO), a hormone that produces red blood cells in the body.
Levels of oxygen change at changing altitudes and in different medical conditions. Identifying how the body responds to this can help other scientists produce drugs that can work in such situations.
The Nobel laureates are full-time professors from Harvard, Oxford and Johns Hopkins universities. They will share the prize of nine million Swedish krona.