The Nobel Prize in Medicine Goes to Your Body’s Oxygen Detector

Wired | 10/7/2019 | Staff
madalina09madalina09 (Posted by) Level 4
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Every time you breathe in, you supply your body’s cells with the oxygen they need to convert food into energy. Scientists have long known that cells must sense how much oxygen is available to adjust their metabolic rates, so they can efficiently and safely burn fuel to build new tissues after an injury, do their daily chores as a liver cell or neuron, say, and keep you a toasty 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. But for most of the 20th century, the mechanisms behind this process remained a mystery.

Today, the Nobel committee kicked off its 2019 season by awarding the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine to three scientists—William G. Kaelin Jr., Peter J. Ratcliffe, and Gregg L. Semenza—for their work uncovering the molecular switch that regulates how cells behave when oxygen levels drop. Their discoveries of the ways cells sense and adapt to changing oxygen availability didn't only uncover the fundamental machinery behind one of life’s most essential processes. They paved the way for promising new drugs to treat anemia, cancer, and many other diseases.

Kaelin - Ratcliffe - Semenza - Actions - Protein

Throughout the 1990s and 2000s, Kaelin, Ratcliffe, and Semenza worked separately to decode the actions of an oxygen-sensitive protein called HIF, for hypoxia inducible factor. They teased apart the network of molecules that direct the proteasome, the cell’s garbage disposal, to destroy HIF in high-oxygen conditions. When oxygen levels drop, the same system causes HIF to rise, cranking up the production of a hormone that in turn triggers the production of red blood cells and blood vessels.

“This kind of basic discovery...
(Excerpt) Read more at: Wired
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