William G. Kaelin Jr., MD
Photo by Steve Marsel
Nobel Prize-winning research
Kaelin and his collaborators deciphered the core molecular events that explain how almost all multi-cellular animals tune their physiology to cope with varying quantities of life-sustaining oxygen in a unique signaling scheme. Their findings could lead
to new therapeutics for a wide range of disorders — including cancer, cardiovascular disease, anemia, and macular degeneration.
How cells sense and adapt to oxygen levels
This oxygen-sensing mechanism involves the tumor-suppressor protein VHL, which is mutated in many kidney cancers, and proteins known as hypoxia inducible factors, HIF-1α and HIF-2α. Kaelin showed that HIF-2α drives certain kidney cancers and recently
discovered how HIF-1α is hijacked by triple-negative breast cancers. He is developing therapeutic strategies for targeting these molecules and others implicated in cancer, such as mutated enzymes IDH1 and IDH2, with designer drugs.
The Nobel announcement comes just a few years after Kaelin and his collaborators won the 2016 Lasker Award — America's most prestigious biomedical honor, whose winners have often become Nobel laureates.