The 2019 Nobel Prize Laureates in Physiology or Medicine

  • нобелевская премия по медицине 2019

The announcement of the 2019 Nobel Prize laureates started on October 7, 2019. The 2019 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine is awarded jointly to William G. Kaelin Jr, Sir Peter J. Ratcliffe and Gregg L. Semenza “for their discoveries of how cells sense and adapt to oxygen availability.” 

The researchers identified molecular mechanisms that regulate the activity of genes in response to varying levels of oxygen. At first, the involvement of the specific DNA sections located next to the EPO gene (responsible for the production of erythropoietin, which stimulates red blood cells formation) in the response to hypoxia (low oxygen level) was found. Then the research groups identified the presence of the oxygen-sensing mechanism in many different cell types, not only in the kidney cells which normally produce erythropoietin. At the same time, it was shown that the VHL (von Hippel-Lindau tumor suppressor) gene encodes a protein that prevents the onset of cancer, and that cancer cells lacking a functional VHL gene express abnormally high levels of hypoxia-regulated genes. The inherited syndrome called von Hippel-Lindau’s disease (VHL disease) is a genetic disease that leads to a significantly increased risk of certain cancers in families with inherited VHL mutations. A following key discovery demonstrated that VHL can interact with HIF-1α (hypoxia-inducible factor) and is required for its degradation at normal oxygen levels. 

These discoveries have laid the basis for promising new strategies to fight anemia, cancer and many other diseases. In tumors, the oxygen-regulated mechanism is used to stimulate blood vessel formation and adjust metabolism for the effective proliferation of cancer cells. Intense ongoing research and development efforts in academic laboratories and pharmaceutical companies are now focused on developing therapeutics that can interfere with different disorders by either activating or blocking this oxygen-sensing machinery.

Illustration: Niklas Elmedhed. © Nobel Media.

The Novel Prize Award ceremony will be held on December 10, 2019, in Stockholm, Sweden.

Source: The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2019. Nobel Media AB 2019. Wed. 9 Oct 2019.