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Basic mechanism of oxygen regulation deciphered
This year's Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine goes to the scientist and doctor Gregg Semenza. He and his team deciphered how body cells react to and adapt to low oxygen levels. This discovery can lead to completely new therapies for cancer, kidney disease, diabetes and heart disease.
Johns Hopkins University scientist Gregg Semenza recently received the 2019 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. He shared the award with his colleagues William G. Kaelin Jr. from the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Peter J. Ratcliffe from Oxford University.
It all starts with oxygen
Oxygen is a life-sustaining element. Oxygen is crucial for every cell in the body to generate energy. This drives a hundred trillion cells that work together in our body. However, many diseases make it difficult for cells to hold oxygen. Nevertheless, sick cells, such as cancer cells, can survive in environments with low oxygen levels.
A protein regulates the lack of oxygen
The team around Semenza has now been able to decipher for the first time how cells manage to get more oxygen with a low oxygen content. The researchers discovered a protein called hypoxia-induced factor 1 or HIF-1 for short. This protein is largely responsible for cells being able to adapt to low oxygen levels.
Oxygen demand with self-destruction
When cells are deprived of oxygen, the HIF-1 protein turns on genes that increase the production of red blood cells, the main task of which is to transport oxygen. The special highlight: HIF-1 is chemically marked by oxygen. This marking leads to the destruction of the protein, so that it cannot initiate further production of red blood cells. However, if there is not enough oxygen to label HIF-1, it activates the red blood cell formation gene until there is enough oxygen to label and the protein is destroyed.
How can the discovery help with therapy?
This basic process of oxygen regulation was previously unknown. The discovery could have far-reaching consequences for medical research. In further tests, Semenza's team was already investigating whether HIF-1 can help prevent cancer cells from surviving in low-oxygen environments.
Other possible areas of application
In other cases, such as kidney disease, the researchers are testing whether HIF-1 can be used for so-called anemia. Anemia in the body means that too little red blood cells are produced. In addition, the Semenza discovery also has the potential to improve treatment for blood disorders, eye disorders, coronary artery disease and diabetes. (vb)
Author and source information
This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.
Graduate editor (FH) Volker Blasek