The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for 2019 will be awarded to American researchers William G Kaelin Jr and Gregg L Semenza, and British scientist Sir Peter J Ratcliffe “for their discoveries of how cells sense and adapt to oxygen availability”, the Nobel committee announced on Monday.

Kaelin, Semenza and Ratcliffe have identified molecular machinery that regulates the activity of genes in response to varying levels of oxygen. “The discoveries made by this year’s Nobel Prize laureates have fundamental importance for physiology and have paved the way for promising new strategies to fight anaemia, cancer and many other diseases,” the Nobel Prize committee said.

This is the first Nobel prize to be announced this year, and other prizes will be announced through this week. The committee will announce two winners for the Nobel Prize in Literature as last year it was cancelled following allegations of sexual misconduct and leaks of names of some winners.

Last year’s prize

The 2018 Nobel Prize for Medicine was awarded to James P Allison and Tasuku Honjo for their “discovery of cancer therapy by inhibition of negative immune regulation”. Allison, an American immunologist, conducted a study on a protein that functions as a brake on the immune system. He realised the potential of releasing the brake and unleashing our immune cells to attack tumours. He developed this concept into a new approach for treating patients. Honjo, a Japanese immunologist, discovered a protein on immune cells that also operates as a brake, but with a different mechanism of action.

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