NAM Members William G. Kaelin (elected 2007) and Gregg L. Semenza (elected 2012) have been announced as recipients of the 2016 Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award for illuminating how people respond to variations in oxygen-an essential process for survival.
How did it all start? In the late 1980s, Dr. Semenza’s research led to the discovery of a protein, HIF-1, that only showed up when oxygen levels were low. Dr. Semenza soon discovered that this protein actually activated many other genes as part of a response to varying oxygen levels. HIF-1, it turned out, was essential for keeping you alive.
Years later, Dr. Kaelin started studying a rare genetic disorder, Von Hippel-Lindau disease, which is characterized by growths that are made of newly formed blood vessels. Although they are typically noncancerous, they can cause serious or life-threatening complications. Dr. Kaelin’s research illustrated that HIF-1 and the Von Hippel-Lindau protein are inextricably linked. Without the Von Hippel-Lindau gene to suppress HIF-1 when oxygen is abundant, cancer can occur.
Since then, researchers have linked the HIF-1 protein to many medical conditions and are looking into treatments for anemia, cardiovascular disease and cancers.
The Albert Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research is awarded annually for outstanding discovery and achievement in the field of medicine and human physiology. Almost 50% of its recipients have gone on to win a Nobel Prize in Medicine. Learn more about Dr. Kaelin and Dr. Semenza’s discoveries in this short video.
Awards will be presented on September 26 and will include remarks from each recipient. For more information, click here.
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