Cambridge alumnus Sir Peter Ratcliffe awarded 2019 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine

  William Kaelin Jr, Sir Peter Ratcliffe (middle) and Gregg Semenza  Credit: Nobel Prize

Sir Peter Ratcliffe, who studied Medicine at the University of Cambridge in 1972, has been jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for discoveries of how cells sense and adapt to oxygen availability.

Sir Peter attended Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge, where he is also now an Honorary Fellow.

Announced yesterday (Monday), the prize has also been awarded to William Kaelin Jr and Gregg Semenza.

Oxygen is essential in helping us convert food into energy. This year’s three Nobel laureates have received their award for discovering how cells sense and adapt to changing oxygen availability and identifying molecular machinery that regulates the activity of genes in response to varying levels of oxygen.

According to the Nobel Prize website, “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 anaemia, cancer and many other diseases”.

Speaking at the announcement by the Nobel Prize Committee in Stockholm, Professor Randall Johnson, from the Department of Physiology, Development and Neuroscience (PDN) at the University of Cambridge, described it as "a very timely prize, that impacts almost every aspect of physiological response".

Dr Andrew Murray, also from PDN, said: "Oxygen is fundamental to animal life, allowing our mitochondria to extract energy from the food we eat. The work of Kaelin, Ratcliffe and Semenza revealed the elegant mechanisms by which our cells sense oxygen levels and respond to fluctuations, enhancing the delivery of oxygen to the tissues of the body and altering our metabolism.

“Since the first reports of the hypoxia inducible factors appeared in the early 1990s, we have come to realise the vital role they play in our everyday physiology, in allowing humans to live at high altitude and in countless biomedical scenarios. Hypoxia (a low tissue oxygen content) is a feature of many diseases including heart failure, chronic lung disease and many cancers.

“The work of these three scientists and their teams has paved the way to a greater understanding of these common, life-threatening conditions and new strategies to treat them. Congratulations to the three new Nobel Laureates, this is richly deserved!"

Sir Peter is the 108th affiliate of the University of Cambridge to have been awarded a Nobel Prize.

Image:   William Kaelin Jr, Sir Peter Ratcliffe (middle) and Gregg Semenza  Credit: Nobel Prize


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