Three scientists who discovered how cells sense and adapt to oxygen levels, including Oxford’s Sir Peter Ratcliffe, have been awarded a Nobel Prize. With William Kaelin (Harvard) and Gregg Semenza (Johns Hopkins) he shares the 2019 physiology or medicine prize. Their work is leading to new treatments for many diseases including cancer.
Prof. Xin Lu (Cancer Research UK Oxford Centre co-director) – “It is wonderful that the outstanding achievements of Peter and his colleagues are being recognised and celebrated. Oxygen levels affect cell metabolism and growth. Many cancer cells that grow in areas of a tumour with low oxygen levels – hypoxia – are resistant to cancer therapies, such as radiotherapy. This ground-breaking research into how cells sense oxygen by Peter and his team highlights the importance of basic biology research and how this knowledge can advance our understanding of cancer initiation and enable future development of effective treatment strategies.”
Moving to Oxford to study renal medicine in the early 90’s, Peter played a key part in a trans-Atlantic community’s efforts to understand the molecular sensors by which animal cells respond to oxygen starvation, or hypoxia. These studies not only led him to discover that crucial sensor but, also an entirely new mechanism of intracellular singling. For these and other contributions to the understanding and potential treatment of cancer and other diseases, Peter was knighted in 2014 and shares the prestigious 2016 Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award, again with William Kaelin and Gregg Semenza.
Prof. Mark Middleton (Cancer Research UK Oxford Centre co-director) – “I’m proud to see science at Oxford recognised in this way. Sir Peter’s work has contributed massively to our understanding of how cancers develop. His insights show several ways in which we might improve the treatment of cancer, and their impact is being felt in the clinic today.”