The 2019 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine has been awarded to Peter Ratcliffe, Director of Clinical Research at the Francis Crick Institute and Director of the Target Discovery Institute at Oxford University.
Peter won the prize jointly with William Kaelin of Harvard and Gregg Semenza of Johns Hopkins, for their ‘discoveries of how cells sense and adapt to oxygen availability’. Between them, they discovered the key mechanisms that our cells use to detect and respond to low oxygen levels, known as ‘hypoxia’.
When our blood has too little oxygen, our kidneys send signals to boost red blood cell production to carry more oxygen. Peter’s research began by looking for a specialised oxygen sensor in the kidneys, but he found nothing special in kidney cells. Investigating further, he discovered a universal mechanism for detecting and responding to hypoxia that has since been found in all our cells.
Every cell in the body needs the right amount of oxygen to function and survive. When oxygen levels become too low, cells can activate emergency processes to survive. Peter’s current research is investigating hypoxia and the role it plays in a variety of health conditions, including heart disease, metabolic diseases and cancer, particularly in kidney cancer which could lead to potential new cancer treatments.
Peter Ratcliffe said: “I’m honoured and delighted at the news. I’ve had great support from so many people over the years. It’s a tribute to the lab, to those who helped me set it up and worked with me on the project over the years, to many others in the field, and not least to my family for their forbearance of all the up and downs.”
Paul Nurse, Director of the Francis Crick Institute, said: “Many congratulations to Peter on this well-deserved recognition of his ground-breaking research. His work has led to unexpected discoveries, revealing a universal mechanism for detecting and responding to oxygen levels in all our cells. These discoveries are based on innovative experiments, highly imaginative mechanisms, and a total dedication to absolute rigour. Peter is an exemplary clinician scientist. We are proud to have him at the Crick as our Director of Clinical Research.”