The Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Institutet announced today that they have awarded the 2019 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine jointly to Sir Peter J. Ratcliffe, William G. Kaelin, Jr., and Gregg L. Semenza for their discoveries of how cells sense and adapt to oxygen availability. Kaelin and Semenza are dual members of the National Academy of Medicine and the National Academy of Sciences.

The importance of oxygen has long been established, the committee explained, but how cells adapt to changes in its levels remained unknown.

All three scientists worked independently over a period of more than two decades to establish how cells can sense and adapt to changing oxygen availability. They identified molecular machinery that regulates the activity of genes in response to varying oxygen levels.

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.

The NAM would like to congratulate all three individuals for this incredible discovery and well-earned recognition.

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