British professor in trio of Nobel winners for medicine

A British doctor who graduated from Cambridge University is among three people who have won the Nobel prize for medicine.

Sir Peter J Ratcliffe has been named as winner of the prestigious award, along with Americans William G Kaelin Jr and Greg L Semenza for their “discoveries on how cells sense and adapt to oxygen availability”.

The trio will share the award’s cash prize of nine million kronor (£738,000).

Sir Peter teaches at Magdalen College at Oxford University, having studied medicine at Cambridge University.

The discoveries made by the trio “have fundamental importance for physiology and have paved the way for promising new strategies to fight anaemia, cancer and many other diseases”, according to the Nobel Assembly at the Karolinska Institute.

The Nobel Committee said that the three scientists had discovered “the molecular switch for how to adapt” when oxygen levels vary.

The group also noted that the most fundamental job for cells is to convert oxygen to food, and that cells and tissues experience changes in oxygen availability.

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Professor Randall S Johnson, a member of the Nobel Assembly, explained how the findings would impact people’s lives and healthcare.

He said: “[The discoveries] really will help us, and is already helping people, develop new medicines.

“Finding different ways to influence this fundamental process has already shown itself to be potentially very useful in very clear medical applications.”

Thomas Perlmann (R), the Secretary of the Nobel Committee, speaks as the winners are announced of the 2019 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine during a press conference at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, on October 7, 2019. - US researchers William Kaelin and Gregg Semenza and Britain's Peter Ratcliffe won the Nobel Medicine Prize for discoveries on how cells sense and adapt to oxygen availability, the Nobel Assembly said. (Photo by Jonathan NACKSTRAND / AFP) (Photo by JONATHAN NACKSTRAND/AFP via Getty Images)
Image: Thomas Perlmann, the secretary of the Nobel Committee, announced the winners at a ceremony in Sweden

The announcement was made during a ceremony in Sweden, presented by Thomas Perlmann, the secretary of the Nobel Committee.

Mr Perlmann had attempted to call all of the winners before the announcement – but struggled at first to reach Mr Kaelin, as his sister had given two phone numbers.

He eventually got in touch with the winner, with Mr Perlmann saying that Mr Kaelin “was very happy” with the news.

It is the 110th prize in the Nobel prize for physiology or medicine that has been awarded since 1901.

The prizes, for physics and chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature, and peace, were founded by Alfred Nobel, a Swedish industrialist and the inventor of dynamite.

Nobel Assembly member Randall Johnson (R) speaks to explain the research field of the winners of the 2019 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine after their names were announced during a press conference at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, on October 7, 2019. - William Kaelin and Gregg Semenza of the US and Peter Ratcliffe of Britain win the 2019 Nobel Medicine Prize. (Photo by Jonathan NACKSTRAND / AFP) (Photo by JONATHAN NACKSTRAND/AFP via Getty Images)
Image: The trio have helped pave the way for new medicines

The next prize, for literature, is due to be announced this week as part of Nobel Week. 2018’s literature prize was suspended amid a sex scandal.

The Swedish Academy have said they will award last year’s prize at this year’s ceremony, along with announcing the 2019 laureate.

The winners of the prizes will receive their gold medal, cash and diploma at a ceremony on 10 December, the anniversary of Nobel’s death in 1896.

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