Nobel Prize in Medicine Awarded for Research on How Cells Manage Oxygen

The prize was awarded to William G. Kaelin Jr., Peter J. Ratcliffe and Gregg L. Semenza for discoveries about how cells sense and adapt to oxygen availability.

Comments: 66

  1. Congrats to these winners. Always nice to see cross institution awards for collaborative achievements. These guys stand on the shoulders of their research teams.

  2. @Chip, They more likely stand on the shoulders of a lot of brilliant but marginalized women who do not get recognized. As a scientist, I used to get really excited about Nobel Prize announcements- until we just started learning about so many women who made the actual discovers that the men went on to claim. Now, these prizes will always have an asterisk to me as I wonder who really did the work.

  3. @JA So, in the absence of any evidence, you automatically assume that women actually did the work, and are being slighted? If that turns out to be true, by all means, let's hear about the stories of these women and celebrate their work! But let's not assume that three great scientists are undeserving of the honor just because they each possess a Y chromosome.

  4. @Clayridge, I might agree except for the fact that women make up 50% of lab populations, but are represented at near 0%(?). And I’m not in favor of taking away anything from these men, I just want equal representation. And #metoo has been exposing way too much for me to be comfortable with accepting things at face value.

  5. Thankful that some institutions in the world, such as the Nobel prize committee, still have respect for science and truth, and recognize the value of this respect. This is despite the current political environment in many parts of the world, in which such values have been lost at the highest levels. U.S. is leading the way in this loss, with the executive branch and senate at the vanguard. May our institutions be restored someday very soon, and may humankind someday soon base important, world-altering decisions on facts and science, not political expedience or whim.

  6. @Malcom Wy So well said - and I can’t believe it has to be said!

  7. Even though women earn over half of biology PhDs, there are considerable gaps reported in the rates at which top tier HHMI labs choose to mentor and fund women trainees. In this context it is difficult for a female scientist to get excited about a group of 3 men being awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2019.

  8. @Hannah Please provide a link supporting your statement. The HHMI actually has an affirmative action-like program that "aims to recruit and retain emerging scientists who are from gender, racial, ethnic, and other groups underrepresented in the life sciences," so the opposite is likely true. It's unjustified and sexist not to celebrate these scientists because they are men.

  9. @Hannah Perhaps Marie Curie found an early niche in science research by having to expose herself to unhealthy and poorly understood doses of radiation from radium; with such exposure possibly contributing to her death via aplastic anemia at the age of 66. Also, Rosalind Franklin found a niche in researching the structure of DNA with Watson and Crick by using radioactive X-ray chrystallography techniques. She died of ovarian cancer at age 37, and her death also could possibly be linked to her exposure to radioactivity in her research environment. My point is simply that perhaps with more limited research opportunities, women must, or at least at one time, they had to be, more accepting of marginal research positions, even those with environmental hazards. [10/07/2019 Monday 9:04 am Greenville NC]

  10. @John Joseph Laffiteau MS in Econ This is still relevant today. I have had to take considerable efforts to find projects that avoid exposure to higher levels of radioactivity than I am comfortable with. Also finding a place in medicine and basic science departments that do not tolerate sexist and sexual harassment is difficult. Calls from Title IX asking me for information other women being harassed by higher ranking men in the lab still follow me after I leave a lab voluntarily. Finally male scientists who do marry equally qualified female scientists often expect the female scientist to relocate for his career. By 1990, women were already earning 40% of biology PhD's. I do not think Rosalind Franklin got the respect or promotions she deserved during her time, but that her data was surreptitiously used. Anyone who read The Double Helix knows of the awful way she was portrayed, and it was required reading for us at our science and math high school. Most institutions claim to have affirmative action programs, but if they do I think they are not working or just stated there for legal reasons. If you see the above paper I listed in PNAS, this topic has been published. Women do not self-select out of top tier labs, which provide more exposure for their research. However they experience retaliation if they report any issues with harassment or sexism. In contrast when women are running the top tier HHMI lab, there is no difference in the number of male and female students.

  11. Congratulations to the 2019 Nobel prize winners in Physiology and Medicine for their lasting contribution to our understanding of oxygen sensing by cells and adapting to how much oxygen is available in their microenvironment. Normal cells undergo more of the oxygen dependent kreb's cycle for energy production, when oxygen is adequately available while tumor cells which are more deeply embedded undergo glucose dependent glycolysis for energy production possibly due to less oxygen availability. Cutting the glucose utilization of cancer cells could potentially cut the supply of energy needed to conduct tumor cell function. This could have a major impact on advancing cancer therapy.

  12. @Girish Kotwal Yes indeed. Elena Reckzeh and her team at the Max Planck Institute have recently discovered a high-potency molecule that blocks several types of glucose transport proteins. There is much still to be learned, but let’s hope that her work in understanding how to starve cancer cells may bring us closer to a cure.

  13. Thank you...good to read about such dedicated and admirable scientists. What a welcome respite from the daily news surrounding dishonorable men, one in particular...

  14. I am a retired women scientist. I have seen and experienced many things. I have a suggestion for the New York Times in light of the overdue shifting sands of women getting treated fairly. How about- for all Nobel Prize winners -doing a retrospective analysis of how many women and minorities were part of the Nobel Laureates team/laboratory. Do a report of where they have landed in academia, companies or other positions in comparison to the white male team members. This would not discredit the award. However, it would likely move the needle forward if the awardees and the Nobel committee knew that this metric would be scrutinized in the court of public opinion. It would in time weed out people awarded a Nobel with a poor record of promoting women and minorities; sunlight is the best disinfectant. Ideally the Nobel committee could have a section for the nomination packet to include a section on the promotion of women and other minorities as a factor in the award selection. Just because you are an excellent scientist does not mean you are an excellent person. It would be nice to award these prizes to more excellent people that are not white and male over time.

  15. @Lu Yes!

  16. @Lu Great idea... combined with @David Liebtag and @ReThinking's suggestion to get a bit the of science thrown in.

  17. @Lu This!

  18. Excellent news about cells, or us, and about those who work for the betterment of all, not the other types who do not. Dedication and toil in their fields lead the way for these three. Most interesting to follow their careers and learn of these discoveries.

  19. Such wonderful news. Proud that two of the three are from the U.S. Looking to the future, since women in the U.S. now earn more than half the bachelors degrees awarded annually, and as many or more of graduate and professional degrees, I expect that in one generation, women will be winning Nobels as frequently as men. (Yes, I know there are institutional barriers, but, like those of us early baby boomers, who had to fight for such fundamental freedoms as being able to study late in a campus library, the current crop of women students and early career scientists will prevail.) For now, when the actions of Trump and his minions have made the U. S. the laughingstock of the world—including the scientific community—I for one am proud to see good old American know-how honored in this way.

  20. I feel it necessary to comment on so many of the comments here focused on the gender of these medical researchers. Yes, they are men. This is of less significance and consequence than the important research work these individuals have accomplished. Working for long years with medical researchers, I acknowledge it traditionally has been an environment that men dominate, however feel this issue is of secondary concern. The kind of long term research projects these medical scientists have been involved in have become rarer as necessary project funding has come to be dominated by private corporate interests focused on the development of marketable drugs and devices in the shortest time span. Humanity needs more of the sustained long term medical/scientific investigative work of the type focused on by these 2019 Nobel Prize winners.

  21. Based on some of the previous comments we should award a Nobel Prize to someone for just being a woman.

  22. @ray franco This comment conveys that you don't believe the women at work in labs generate a large number of major scientific articles and discoveries or don't actually have PhD's.

  23. can't wait for October 11th. just to see Trump's face. maybe he will invite Gretta Thurman to the white house in the near future to ask her how she did it? :-D

  24. If their discovery helps conquer the fight for cancer, bravo!

  25. Want to see our world advance? Give women the same freedom, funding and respect.

  26. As someone who knows Bill Kaelin personally, I want to point out the lengths he has gone to to mentor other scientists in his community--even while going through the deep personal loss of his wife. He is a rigorous scientist and kind-hearted man. Congratulations, Bill!

  27. @Rameen Beroukhim Bill Kaelin’s late wife was a leading physician and surgeon in Boston. I knew her well and Bill was as big a supporter of her career as she was of his. This prestigious award is a tribute to them both.

  28. Although Trump has stated that he has a “natural instinct for science,” I’d be interested to know if these brilliant American scientists will receive any official accolades from Trump for their achievements. Considering the low esteem in which science is held by this administration, I’m guessing very little.

  29. The United Kingdom gives knighthoods to great researchers and Trump gives the Medal of Freedom to donors and baseball players. SAD.

  30. @DSM14 Sir Alex Ferguson is a great example of what you are saying.

  31. @DSM14 Mariano Rivera has been recognized for his philanthropy by numerous groups in the US and abroad. He received an award from the POTUS for that work, not his athletic accomplishments. There's an endless number of reasons to complain about Trump, but Mo did nothing wrong. Also, I would have to guess that you don't know who Matt Busby is, which is probably not a big deal, but most people have heard of Alex Ferguson, right? That would be Sir Alex Ferguson. I haven't read any of his research papers, but I guess they're great.

  32. Just a bit more explanation of the basics (for which the award was won) - and how it actually could be used to combat cancer, etc - would be nice. Perhaps this article isn't the appropriate place, but maybe the NYT could - in the not too distant future - devote a short article to this.

  33. Three more men. Yawn. My daughter (M.D. Wash U, Fellow Harvard/Mass Gen) gave up her research two years ago because of the sexist work/funding/mentoring environment in the major research institutions, Harvard and NIH included. It is just not worth squandering all that education to just be overlooked, mismanaged, or hassled. She now sticks with treating patients in the ICU.

  34. @abc Good scientists of all genders use empirical data to explain natural phenomena - they banish magical thinking form the labs.

  35. @abc You really could set your watch to the entitlement of others these days.

  36. Let’s just celebrate and forget the gender complaints. If this research makes people healthier great. Why do good moments have to be tainted by political correctness?

  37. @Llewis Are you a woman engineer, or woman scientist who has worked in a male-dominated setting your entire career? If so, and you haven't been dismissed, ignored, overlooked, intimidated or downright stolen from by your male colleagues, consider yourself lucky, and I'm very glad for you. And if you have experienced that and can still be magnanimous, then good for you. My own experience is that men are so much more exalted for their results than women, and so much more supported in their efforts than women, that when they are awarded I cannot celebrate it without resentment. Such is life as a women engineer/scientist with a career in a male world.

  38. Because, Lewis, too many women work in science and are regularly ignored and passed over when it’s recognition time. Or hadn’t you noticed? Seems to me it’s more about fairness than political correctness. Were you never passed over for something you’d accomplished? Remember how that feels? Would you characterize your reaction as political correctness or fairness?

  39. I wish this article had included at least a little description of the actual molecular machinery these researchers uncovered.

  40. Cellular adaptation to changes in carbon dioxide levels seems somewhat more important in the present context. One of the greatest unknowns - and possibly the greatest existential threat facing the planet - is the impact of increasing carbon dioxide levels on core metabolic and enzymatic functions of species comprising complex and interdependent biotic ecosystems. Ocean acidification, for example, dissolves calcium carbonate structures in coral reefs and shells of crustaceans. How does increasing carbon dioxide impact more complex systems -- for example, nerve conduction, higher-executive functioning and the resulting population-level behavioral dynamics, i.e. predator-prey interactions?

  41. How poignant: Sir Peter Ratcliffe working on an EU Synergy grant proposal, just as his government is trying to drag the UK out of the EU. I hope his effort will not have been wasted. Kudos to the three new laureates for work of great insight that also promises great practical benefit.

  42. Not a scientist, really enjoyed the article. Read it first in my tablet with the intention to share part of it. Went to my computer and the part i wanted to share was shortened to one sentece. Went back to my tablet and by then was also shortened there. Why does that happen?

  43. It's wonderful to see scientists who often work in obscurity be recognized for advancing human knowledge. They are role models for everyone.

  44. Congratulations to these pioneering scientists. I’m sure they have worked hard and long on this project and certainly deserve this honor. HOWEVER: I find it hard to believe that in their three separate institutes, there was NO woman—researcher, assistant, thought provoker—who merited a special mention of thanks or cooperation. I am not asking for a woman to be added as a sop to feminism. But we know from past Nobel awards and other prizes in the field of scientific investigation that ignored many unsung women who contributed to discoveries that men took credit for.

  45. @C P Sowell Unbelievable. I looked at the picture and my very first thought was "three white guys. Somebody is going to complain about it." Go to the comments and the first comment I see is complaining that the unsung women who they just know must have done something weren't credited. Did you not notice that Dr. Semenza TOTALLY credits his high school biology teacher (a woman) for his becoming a scientist? And he calls he "unbelievable" and says she changed his life? What's unbelievable is the insanity we're living with.

  46. Congratulations to the scientists (as well as all those who didn’t win but continue to work long hours in their field of study, without being highly compensated or recognized) Thank you to the Nobel Committee who still prize intellectual excellence, something horribly missing from the world’s supposedly most powerful democracy (it’s not just Trump, but millions of his supporters)

  47. This is such happy uplifting news, in the midst of chaos, crisis and craziness. I’m an ex research scientist with a PhD, and having worked for years and years in Cancer & AIDS research, with an almost never ending end, I cannot help but feel proud of all 3 men, and their contributions to science, Congratulations!! Being a woman scientist myself and having worked like crazy in the lab, I feel, it does not mean and cannot take away from what these people have achieved and deservedly so. Please, let this moment be theirs, without inserting the gender issue and the bitterness that comes with. So Happy for them!!

  48. @Maray You have written a lovely, generous reply. We can all feel grateful for what these three scientists have contributed to our common knowledge and still work for inclusion of women and minorities in the laboratories adding to that knowledge.

  49. I've just realised that Sir Peter Ratcliffe attended the high school, Lancaster Royal Grammar School, that both my sons attend / attended. How inspirational for the current students!

  50. To those who are commenting on the lack of recognition to female scientists, remember that the Nobel Prize is often awarded many years, if not decades, after the discovery is actually made. For the sake of my 15 year-old daughter, who has an interest and talent for STEM, as well as millions of other women and girls, I hope opportunities for achievement, and recognition, in these areas are increasing.

  51. @Steve Tunley , These institutions which have suppressed the work of women should be reviewing past credit given to males in publications and paving the way for proper recognition of the women who worked in these labs and contributed to the findings. It is not adequate to say wait.

  52. Congratulations for their great achievements in medical sciences & Nobel Prize in Medicine. But in future,we need some brave scientists to study how polluted air with increased CO2 for which GOPers don’t care is affecting them as well other party’s political leaders.

  53. Congratulations to all. And thank you for explaining what it is that they discovered. I first got this news thru a brit newspaper - Guardian. It took me 10 plus paras to get names of America winners. So, thanks for not being chauvinistic. Finally, someone should get a Nobel to teach these committees that it is not necessary to wake folks at 5:00 am. Of course,that itself is often the news. They can wait a couple of plus hours - and there are still a couple of hours left before Miller time in Stockholm.

  54. Each year, the Nobel Peace prize reflects on PRESENT deeds. But the Nobel in Medicine reflects dynamic change for ALL humanity....forever! Great inspiration from this trio!

  55. Thanks so much for sharing a glimpse of each of the respective winners' lives and related efforts. It's humbling to say the least. Progress in discovering a cure for cancer doesn't just happen.

  56. Congratulations to the winners, and thanks to the New York Times for including in the story how each of the three Nobelists came into the field of science because of (or in spite of) teachers and mentors along the way. Encouragement for undergraduate researchers, and food for thought for their mentors!

  57. I thought Trump should have got it for discovering the secret of perpetual lying.

  58. It's always a big surprise, but the Nobel Committee always has their bedside phone numbers.

  59. How very British of Dr. Ratcliffe! Only comfortable when not in the Spotlight!!

  60. Love this story! So tired of being fed toxic politics 24/7 by mainstream media, as if nothing else in the world was happening that mattered more.

  61. YES!...Congratulation to all persons who have done well, and done their best...but let us not forget, there was a teacher or mentor , who said you have it in you to go forward and do great...teachers and mentors are the ones, who move the world forward, one child, one student, one classroom at a is them we have to thank also.

  62. Of course, this being the NYTimes comments section, I figured I'd find several complaints about "three more men" being lauded at the expense of female scientists. I don't agree with that closed-minded sentiment but here's the thing: their advances belong to mankind, not to the male gender. And the same could be said about advances made by female scientists.

  63. As a VHL patient, I am thrilled that Dr William Kaelin received this Nobel prize for his research in VHL gene suppressor which triggers von Hippel Lindau syndrome. The VHL community thanks you, Dr. Kaelin.

  64. Long after the moral weakling in the White House has been forgotten, we will still remember and cherish these three good men William G. Kaelin Jr., Gregg L. Semenza, and Peter J. Ratcliffe. They are among the best humanity has produced.

  65. I am extremly happy for the winner. Aa a medical reseracher at Bioxytran Inc. we developed a drug called BXT25 and an FDA approved methodology and device to detect oxygen consumption by every cell. The HIF dicovery is one of the most important medical discovery in the 21 century. This discovery is the base for our developments and commercialize applications to help people in medical conditions associate with hypoxia like stroke, anemia, ischemia truma and wound healing.