Brit and Americans share Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine

Brit and Americans share Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine
The Local live blogged the announcement. Photo: Pontus Lundahl/TT
Join The Local at the Nobel Forum where the winners of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine were announced on Monday.
  • The 2019 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine is awarded jointly to William G Kaelin, Sir Peter J Ratcliffe and Gregg L Semenza “for their discoveries of how cells sense and adapt to oxygen availability”. Scroll down to read The Local's live blog from the announcement.

US researchers William Kaelin and Gregg Semenza and Britain's Peter Ratcliffe on Monday shared the Nobel Medicine Prize for discoveries on how cells sense and adapt to oxygen availability, the Nobel Assembly said.

“They established the basis for our understanding of how oxygen levels affect cellular metabolism and physiological function,” the jury said.

Their research has “paved the way for promising new strategies to fight anemia, cancer and many other diseases.”

The jury said the trio had identified molecular machinery that regulates the activity of genes in response to varying levels of oxygen, which is central to a large number of diseases.

“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,” the jury said.

Kaelin works at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in the US, while Semenza is director of the Vascular Research Program at the John Hopkins Institute for Cell Engineering.

Ratcliffe is director of clinical research at the Francis Crick Institute in London, and director of the Target Discovery Institute in Oxford.

The three will share the Nobel prize sum of nine million Swedish kronor (about $914,000 or 833,000 euros).

They will receive their prize from King Carl XVI Gustaf at a formal ceremony in Stockholm on December 10, the anniversary of the 1896 death of scientist Alfred Nobel who created the prizes in his last will and testament.

Last year, the honour went to immunologists James Allison of the US and Tasuku Honjo of Japan, for figuring out how to release the immune system's brakes to allow it to attack cancer cells more efficiently. (AFP)

12:10 Thanks for reading!

I'm going to put this short blog to bed now. Here's more information about this year's award. It's well worth a read, the Nobel people are usually very good at explaining the science so that everyone understands.  

Hope to chat again tomorrow at the announcement of the Nobel Prize in Physics.


Photo: Pontus Lundahl/TT

12:00 Good morning, you've won the Nobel Prize

Thomas Perlmann, secretary of the Nobel Committee, just said he had managed to speak with all the laureates. Of course, Kaelin and Semenza are both based in the US so it's safe to say that they were probably woken up by the phone call because of the time difference between the US and Sweden.

Actually, in the case of Kaelin, three people got the unusual wake-up call.

“I first called William Kaelin's sister and woke her up,” said Perlmann, but she kindly gave him two phone numbers for her brother. He said he called the first one and asked if he was speaking to Kaelin. The groggy voice on the other end said “no”. Then when he called the second number he finally managed to get through to the Nobel laureate, who we understand was very pleased to be named among this year's winners.

11:45 Paving the way for fighting cancer

We have been handed a 15-page document explaining the science behind this year's award. Here's a quick summary:

“Animals need oxygen for the conversion of food into useful energy. The fundamental importance of oxygen has been understood for centuries, but how cells adapt to changes in levels of oxygen has long been unknown.”

“William G. Kaelin Jr., Sir Peter J. Ratcliffe and Gregg L. Semenza discovered how cells can sense and adapt to changing oxygen availability. They identified molecular machinery that regulates the activity of genes in response to varying levels of oxygen.”

“The seminal discoveries by this year’s Nobel Laureates revealed the mechanism for one of life’s most essential adaptive processes. They established the basis for our understanding of how oxygen levels affect cellular metabolism and physiological function. Their discoveries have also paved the way for promising new strategies to fight anemia, cancer and many other diseases.”

11:30 The 2019 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine will be awarded…

… jointly to William G Kaelin, Sir Peter J Ratcliffe and Gregg L Semenza “for their discoveries of how cells sense and adapt to oxygen availability”.

11:25 The years when there were no winners

The Medicine Prize has been awarded since 1901, with the exception of nine years: 1915, 1916, 1917, 1918, 1921, 1925, 1940, 1941 and 1942.

Why these exceptions? Well, the statutes of the Nobel Foundation say: “If none of the works under consideration is found to be of the importance indicated in the first paragraph, the prize money shall be reserved until the following year. If, even then, the prize cannot be awarded, the amount shall be added to the Foundation's restricted funds.”

But don't worry, we will have a winner this year. Here's proof from the Nobel Foundation:

11:20 Surprise news from the King of Sweden

The internet here at the Nobel Forum is a bit dodgy to say the least, and we just got another piece of non-Nobel-related breaking news: King Carl XVI Gustaf announced a decision to remove five of his grandchildren from the Royal House. You can read more about that here (but do keep reading this blog as well).

11:15 What do you need to know about the Nobel Prize?

Alfred Nobel, the Swedish scientist and inventor who made a vast fortune from his invention of dynamite in 1866, ordered the creation of the famous Nobel prizes in his will.

Nobel decreed that the bulk of his estate should be invested in “safe securities” and, as a result, about 31.5 million Swedish kronor, equivalent today to 1.7 billion kronor, were used to create the Nobel Foundation.

The will specified that prizes should be given in physics, chemistry, medicine, literature and peace.

Here's what Nobel wrote: “One part to the person who shall have made the most important discovery or invention within the field of physics; one part to the person who shall have made the most important chemical discovery or improvement; one part to the person who shall have made the most important discovery within the domain of physiology or medicine; one part to the person who shall have produced in the field of literature the most outstanding work in an ideal direction; and one part to the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.”

11:10 Nobel season kicks off

Good morning! I'm Emma Löfgren and I will be your slightly confused host as I guide you through the science behind this week's Nobel Prizes. Today I am at the Nobel Forum at the Karolinska Institute in Solna just north of Stockholm, where this year's winner or winners of the Medicine Prize will be announced in 20 minutes.


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