William Kaelin Jr., Trinity '79, Medical School '82 and a member of the Board of Trustees, has won the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine today.
He shares the award with Sir Peter Ratcliffe and Gregg Semenza for "their discoveries of how cells sense and adapt to oxygen availability," according to the Nobel Prize press conference. Semenza, C. Michael Armstrong Professor of Pediatrics at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, completed his residency in pediatrics at Duke Medical Center.
Kaelin works as the Sidney Farber professor of medicine at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Harvard Medical School. He is also a senior physician at the Brigham and Women's Hospital and a Howard Hughes Medical Investigator. He researches tumor-preventing proteins with the goal of discovering new strategies to fight cancer.
His Nobel follows his Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research, which is not unusual: 40 Lasker Award winners have won a Nobel Prize in the last thirty years. Kaelin has also won the AACR-Richard and Hinda Rosenthal Prize for Cancer Research and the 2007 Duke School of Medicine Distinguished Alumni Award.
The National Academy of Sciences elected Kaelin as a member in 2010.
Kaelin was elected to the Board of Trustees this past July as one of five new members. His appointment came on the heels of Duke awarding Kaelin with an honorary degree in 2018. On the Board, he currently serves on the Graduate and Professional Education and Research Committee.
Semenza works as the director of the vascular program at the Insititute for Cell Engineering. He studies varying oxygen levels in cells, and is known for finding the HIF-1 protein that controls genes in response to oxygen availability. Ratcliffe is a professor at Oxford University and the Director of Clinical Research at Francis Crick Institute, London.
Before Kaelin, Ratcliffe and Semenza's research, scientists did not understand the mechanisms that controlled how cells adapted to changing levels of oxygen. The three discovered how genes and proteins respond to varying oxygen availability—"one of life's most essential adaptive processes"—and how that availability affects cellular metabolism. Thanks to their work, scientists have new strategies for fighting cancer, anemia and other diseases.
Thomas Perlmann, secretary of the Nobel Committee, announced the award at 5:30 a.m. EDT in Stockholm, Sweden. The Karolinska Institute chooses the recipients for Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, which has been awarded since 1901.
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This story was updated at 7:12 a.m.