US researchers William Kaelin and Gregg Semenza and Britain’s Peter Ratcliffe were awarded Nobel Prize for Medicine for study on hypoxia.
The Nobel Prize for Medicine was awarded as they established the basis for our understanding of how oxygen levels affect cellular metabolism and physiological function.
Beyond describing a fundamental physiological process that helps animals to thrive in some of the highest regions on Earth, the mechanism has given researchers new insights into treatments for anaemia, cancer and other diseases.
In work that spanned more than two decades, the researchers teased apart different aspects of how cells in the body sense and then respond to low oxygen, a gas that is crucial for converting food into useful energy.
When the amount of oxygen available to cells drops, levels of a protein complex named HIF rise. This then ramps up the activity of a gene used in the production of erythropoietin (EPO), a hormone that in turn boosts the production of oxygen-carrying red blood cells.
Randall Johnson, professor of molecular physiology and pathology at Cambridge University, said this year’s Nobel laureates “have greatly expanded our knowledge of how physiological response makes life possible.”
A drug that boosts the body’s production of red blood cells by tapping into the molecular machinery identified by the winners has already been approved in China and is under consideration by regulators in Europe