William Kaelin's 2019 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine
William G. Kaelin Jr., MD, won the 2019 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with two other physician-scientists for unraveling a molecular mechanism that not only is crucial to survival, but is entwined with cancer and other diseases.
William G. Kaelin Jr., MD, receives the Nobel Prize in Medicine from King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden during the award ceremony at the Stockholm Concert Hall, Stockholm, Sweden, on December 10, 2019. (Source: Henrik Montgomery/TT News Agency via AP)
Nobel Prize-Winning Research
Dr. 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.
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. Dr. 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.
William G. Kaelin Jr., MD, Nobel Prize Press Conference, October 7, 2019
Dana-Farber physician-scientist William Kaelin, MD, describes his reactions to winning the Nobel Prize in Medicine, and responds to press inquiries about his scientific discoveries leading up to the Nobel prize award. Dr. Kaelin is the Sidney Farber Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, and an investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. Video courtesy of The Harvard Gazette.
"I knew objectively the discovery we made ... was the kind of discovery that sometimes wins prizes, but I always remind students that a prize is a tribute to nature, not a tribute to us." – From Dr. Kaelin's Harvard Gazette interview, Sept. 27, 2023: Did winning the Nobel change your life?
On November 13, the Swedish Embassy honored Dr. Kaelin and other American laureates at its Annual Nobel Symposium in Washington, D.C. Watch Dr. Kaelin present his groundbreaking discovery of how cells sense and adapt to oxygen availability.
Read about Shaun Tierney's inspiring journey to health with therapies derived from Dr. Kaelin's Nobel-winning discovery: "I have six grandchildren … Dr. Kaelin's research made it possible for me to live long enough to see them."
Among the keepsakes Nobel Laureate Dr. Kaelin donated are his childhood microscope; his residency doctor bag, including stethoscope, ophthalmoscope, and reflex hammer; and other sentimental items from his Johns Hopkins residency. (Photo by Will Kirk/The Johns Hopkins University)
Dr. Kaelin Speaks to Young Scientists About the Nobel Prize
Nobel Laureate Dr. Kaelin presented a lecture titled, “My Unlikely Journey to Stockholm: Why Science Is Like Fishing” to students and scientists in Oviedo, Asturias, Spain, as part of the Exchange Prize Outreach global education program.
"While we will greatly benefit from the kinds of collaborations and resources envisioned by 'cancer moonshot' programs, they must not come at the cost of robust support for curiosity-driven science." – From Dr. Kaelin's Washington Post Op-ed, Feb. 11, 2020: Why we can't cure cancer with a moonshot
Many Honors for Dr. Kaelin
Dr. Kaelin's list of prestigious scientific awards, prizes, and honors is impressive — the cancer biologist having received the Stanley J. Korsmeyer Award (ASCI), the Foundation Lefoulon-Delalande Scientific Grand Prix, the Alfred Knudson Award in Cancer Genetics (NCI), the Canada Gairdner International Award, and election to the National Academy of Sciences.
More recently, Dr. Kaelin received the Massry Prize, the Lasker Award, the Science of Oncology Award (ASCO), the Princess Takamatsu Award (AACR), election to the AACR Academy, the Steven C. Beering Award, and the Wiley Prize in Biomedical Sciences.
About Dr. Kaelin's Lasker Award
The Nobel announcement comes just a few years after Dr. Kaelin and his collaborators won the 2016 Lasker Award — America's most prestigious biomedical honor, whose winners have often become Nobel laureates.
How Cells and Tissues Sense Changes in Oxygen Availability
Dr. Kaelin talks about how cells and tissues of the body sense and respond to changes in oxygen availability. In describing this molecular mechanism which, for example, enables the body to adapt to higher altitudes, Kaelin and his colleagues opened new avenues for treatments of heart disease and stroke.
I'm often asked, 'What do you think's going to be the biggest scientific discovery in 10 years?' And I tell people, 'If I could predict that, I'll be really disappointed.' I hope the discovery in 10 years completely blows my mind...
National and International Coverage of Kaelin's Nobel Prize Award