2019 Nobel Prize winners in physiology or medicine announced

Of all the coveted awards in the world, The Nobel Prize has an unmatched relevance. The Nobel Foundation every year gives out the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for the outstanding discoveries made in the field of Life Sciences and Medicine. 2019 will be no different as this most-sought-after award will be shared by three eminent researchers whose contributions in the medicinal space have become a talking point lately.

Americans William G. Kaelin Jr and Gregg L. Semenza are all set to share this year’s Nobel Prize for Life Sciences and Medicine with their English counterpart Sir Peter J. Ratcliffe for the findings on how cells can sense and adapt to the changing oxygen availability.

The award, as is customary will be presented on 10th December which happens to be Swedish chemist Alfred Nobel’s death anniversary. Since the time this award started way back in 1901, 110 Nobel prizes in Physiology or Medicine have been bestowed upon 207 men and 12 women. These days this prize is mostly referred to as Nobel Prize in Medicine.

This year’s discovery can be termed as exceptional on many grounds. We are all aware that animals need oxygen for the conversion of food into energy. However, it has not been established how cells would adapt to the changes in oxygen levels. In comes the research done by these 3 Nobel Laureates where they have revealed the mechanism of one of life’s most eminent adaptive processes by identifying molecular machinery that regulates the activity of genes in response to the varying levels of oxygen. According to the Nobel committee which is instrumental in giving out the award, the three scientist’s discoveries have paved the way for promising new strategies for a cancer cure, anemia, and many other diseases. Their research will no doubt spur the development of new drugs related to anemia, a disease in which patients lack healthy red blood cells that are required to carry oxygen to the organs. Not only that, these discoveries can also help lead to the development of new drugs for heart attack and stroke. Further down the road, these discoveries can also establish new treatment for Spinal Cord injury by administering drugs that might promote the regeneration of damaged nerve cells in the spine. For cancer, this research gives another flank to fight it by suppressing the ability of cancer cells to procure oxygen.

Semenza identified the enhancer and used it to purify the transcription factor and named it hypoxia-inducible factor or HIF. His research concluded that HIF increases when cells are deprived of oxygen. Ratcliffe and Kaelin Jr identified another protein called VHL which is responsible for destroying HIF when the oxygen levels are high. This meant that the work of all three resulted in a molecular switch for responding to oxygen levels.

All the 3 scientists have had While William G. Kaelin Jr is a professor of medicine at the Harvard University and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Gregg L. Semenza happens to be the professor of radiation oncology, pediatrics, biological chemistry at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. He is also director of the vascular program at the Institute for Cell Engineering. Both, Kaelin Jr and Semenza happen to be the 2016 recipient of the Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research. Sir Peter J. Ratcliffe, on the other hand, is a physician-scientist who is trained as a Nephrologist. It is well to be noted that Kaelin’s work aligned with that of Peter J. Ratcliffe and Gregg Semenza who had separately identified a two-part protein that was essential to EPO production and which was triggered by oxygen levels in the blood.

This year’s announcement

The 2019 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was announced on October 07th by Thomas Perlmann, Secretary of the Nobel Committee at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm. As is the case every year, this prize is conferred on to an individual or group deemed for their outstanding discoveries in the field of medicine and life sciences and besides the ethereal Gold Medal, the winners are also awarded a diploma and nine million Swedish kroner- £ 740,000 in prize money.

The selection process

The idea behind the Nobel Prize hovers around discovery and that it be the greatest discovery for mankind. The process of nomination and selection of the Nobel Prize involves a lot of precision as only select few are eligible to take part in it. These people are majorly from members of academies around the world, renowned professors of medicines across the Scandinavian countries and also professors of selected universities of other countries. Even the past Nobel laureates can also take part in the nomination process.  In 1968, it was decided that not more than 3 persons may share a Nobel Prize.