Recently, three scientists have received a Nobel Prize in Medicine or Physiology for their discoveries. The Nobel Assembly has announced this prize on Monday at the Karolina Institute in Stockholm.
These scientists, Gregg L. Semenza, William G. Kaelin Jr., and Peter J. Ratcliffe have worked on how cells sense and manage oxygen availability. Whereas, their findings established the genetic mechanism that allow cells to respond to changing oxygen levels.
Additionally, the findings have implications to cure many diseases like anemia, cancer, stroke, and heart attack.
Importance of their work
Oxygen is vital for the survival of living organisms. Without it, cells can never survive. However, too little or too much oxygen can also be harmful. The three scientists have worked together to answer a question that how cells regulate their responses.
The scientists have revealed detailed genetic responses to changing levels of oxygen. That allow body cells to sense and respond to changes by increasing or decreasing the amount of oxygen they receive.
Randall Johnson is a member of the Nobel Assembly. He has described the recent work as a “textbook discovery”. Ans stated that this is something that students should start learning at the most basic levels of biology education.
William G. Kaelin Jr. said that like any other scientists he liked solving puzzles. And was captivated by science for its objectivity. But he had an unpleasant start.
When he was a pre-med student, his professor wrote that he is a bright student whose future lies outside the boundary of the laboratory. Gradually, he got an interest in a rare genetic cancer, von Hippel-Lindau disease. That involves an overproduction of erythropoietin (EPO) and the profusion of extra blood vessels.
EPO is a hormone that stimulates RBCs production and facilitates the oxygen-carrying capability of the body. Dr. Kaelin said that this cancer was quite fascinating. It had unusual characteristics, like making a substance VEGF, that stimulates blood vessel formation.
Moreover, this cancer had already increased RBC production by increased EPO production. Then, he got an idea about what was going awry. And thought that it had something to do with the sensing of oxygen. And later, the finding proved that he was right.
Who was awarded with the Nobel prize?
Dr. Kaelin said that he knew about the award of the Nobel Prize in Medicine. But his chances were so less that he got stuck with his daily routine and didn’t stay up last night. Though he hadn’t gotten the 5:00 am a call from Sweden, he had a dream. He woke up and looked at the time, that was 1:30 am.
Later, he went back to sleep at 5:00 am, when his phone rang. Gregg L. Semenza set out to understand what cancer cells are looking for when they enter surrounding tissues and blood vessels that carry them throughout the body. He guessed that cancer cells were looking for oxygen.
Then he observed the gene that influences EPO production. Once activated, these genes synthesize more oxygen-carrying RBCs. But how the switch is turned on in case of oxygen deprivation. Dr. Semenza said that he was asleep when he received a call from Sweden. And a person told him that he was going to receive a Nobel prize in Medicine.
Peter J. Ratcliffe, is the director of the Target Discovery Institute at Oxford. He set about the problem of EPO regulation. And when the call came from Sweden, he was writing a grant proposal.