The first Nobel Prize of the year 2019, the Physiology or Medicine prize, goes to three biologists: William Kaelin, Sir Peter Ratcliffe and Gregg Semenza.
These three prize winners have improved our understanding on how our organism reacts when faced with a lack of oxygen. They have described in detail the molecular mechanisms though which our organism senses a drop in oxygen and how its cells respond to it by switching on or off a set of genes.
New York-born William Kaelin began his own research at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. In 2002, he became a full professor at Harvard Medical School. He was apparently asleep when he received a call on Monday from Thomas Perlmann, Secretary of the Nobel Committee, informing him on the good news.
Peter Ratcliffe, born in Lancashire, England, studied medicine at Cambridge University and established an independent research laboratory at Oxford University. He and his team discovered the universal mechanism for detecting low oxygen levels and responding to them, a condition known as hypoxia. Ratcliffe was apparently in the process of writing a grant proposal when he received the call informing him that he had won the prestigious prize.
Gregg L. Semenza, born in New York, became a full-time professor at Johns Hopkins University in 1999. Since 2003, he has been the Director of the Vascular Research Program at the Johns Hopkins Institute. According to Semenza, it took two calls from the committee before he picked up the phone to receive the good news.
The winners of the prizes will receive their gold medal, cash and diploma at a ceremony on 10 December, the anniversary of Nobel’s death in 1896. The total sum allocated to the three amounts to 9 millions crowns, namely 830 000 euros.