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Gregg Semenza

Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine

2019

For centuries, scientists had known that oxygen is vital to life, but not how cells respond to changes in the availability of oxygen. When Professor Gregg Semenza announced in 1992 that he had discovered a protein complex that regulates the expression of thousands of genes in response to reduced oxygen availability, he helped to answer a key part of this puzzle.

The uncovering of the protein complex, which he called hypoxia inducible factor 1, or HIF-1, has far-reaching implications for the understanding and treatment of hypoxia-associated diseases, including coronary artery disease and cancer. These are diseases that are related to having low oxygen levels in tissues. 

For his seminal work on HIF-1, Professor Semenza was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2019 alongside two other scientists. 

Professor Semenza is currently one of the world’s preeminent researchers on the molecular mechanisms of oxygen homeostasis, which is cells’ maintenance of oxygen levels that are neither insufficient nor excessive. He is also investigating the role of HIF-1 in cancer progression, and is developing novel HIF inhibitors to treat cancer and blinding eye diseases. 

He has authored over 400 research articles and reviews, and his work has been cited in other scientists’ research papers more than 150,000 times. He is now the C. Michael Armstrong Professor of Genetic Medicine at the John Hopkins University School of Medicine, and also serves as Director of the Vascular Programme at the Institute for Cell Engineering, and as Deputy Editor of The Journal of Clinical Investigation.

Beyond the Nobel Prize, Professor Semenza has been recognised with numerous other awards, including the Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award, Wiley Prize in Biomedical Sciences, Lefoulon-Delalande Grand Prize, and Canada Gairdner International Award. 

He is also a founding fellow of the American College of Medical Genetics and Genomics, and has been elected to the Association of American Physicians, National Academy of Sciences, and National Academy of Medicine.