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British scientist Sir Peter Ratcliffe among Nobel Prize winners for medicine

Three scientists were awarded the prestigious prize for their discoveries of how cells sense and adapt to oxygen availability.

Three scientists are sharing the Nobel Prize (Nobel/PA)
Three scientists are sharing the Nobel Prize (Nobel/PA)

By Nina Massey, PA Science Correspondent

The 2019 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine has been jointly awarded to three scientists, including a British professor.

Professor William Kaelin Jr, Sir Peter Ratcliffe and Professor Gregg L. Semenza received the award for their discoveries of how cells sense and adapt to oxygen availability, the Nobel Committee announced on Monday.

It is the 110th prize in the category that has been awarded since 1901.

The Karolinska Institutet said in a statement the trio should share equally the nine million kronor, around £736,000, cash award.

In statement the committee said: “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.”

It added that the three men had identified molecular machinery that regulates the activity of genes in response to varying levels of oxygen.

The statement said: “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.”

Sir Peter said: “I’m honoured and delighted at the news.

“I’ve had great support from so many people over the years.

“It’s a tribute to the lab, to those who helped me set it up and worked with me on the project over the years, to many others in the field, and not least to my family for their forbearance of all the up and downs.”

Professor Louise Richardson, the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Oxford, said: “Oxford University is extremely proud of Professor Sir Peter Ratcliffe, and we are delighted that he has been honoured by the Nobel Assembly today.

“While making an immense contribution at the forefront of medical research, Sir Peter has also provided inspirational teaching for our medical students and supported countless patients. Today’s honour is enormously well deserved.”

Sir Peter was born in 1954 in Lancashire, and he studied medicine at Gonville and Caius College at Cambridge University.

He did his specialist training in nephrology at Oxford, and established an independent research group at Oxford University and became a full professor in 1996.

Sir Peter is the director of clinical research at Francis Crick Institute, London, director for Target Discovery Institute in Oxford and Member of the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research.

Sir Peter has led the hypoxia biology laboratory at Oxford for more than 20 years.

The laboratory discovered the widespread operation of a system of direct oxygen sensing that is conserved throughout the animal kingdom and operates through a novel form of cell signalling involving post-translational hydroxylation of specific amino acids.

The Karolinska Institutet said of the discoveries: “Thanks to the groundbreaking work of these Nobel Laureates, we know much more about how different oxygen levels regulate fundamental physiological processes.

“Oxygen sensing allows cells to adapt their metabolism to low oxygen levels: for example, in our muscles during intense exercise.

“Other examples of adaptive processes controlled by oxygen sensing include the generation of new blood vessels and the production of red blood cells.

“Our immune system and many other physiological functions are also fine-tuned by the O2-sensing machinery.

“Oxygen sensing has even been shown to be essential during foetal development for controlling normal blood vessel formation and placenta development.”

PA

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