Professor Sir Peter J Ratcliffe, Director for the Target Discovery Institute within the Nuffield Department of Medicine at Oxford University and Director of Clinical Research at Francis Crick Institute, London, is one of this year’s winners of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. He receives the accolade along with William G Kaelin, Jr of Harvard University and Gregg L Semenza of Johns Hopkins University.
This year’s Nobel Laureates revealed the mechanism for one of life’s most essential adaptive processes; how oxygen levels affect cellular metabolism and physiological function. Their discoveries have also paved the way for new strategies to fight anaemia, cancer and many other diseases.Professor Sir Nigel Shadbolt, Principal of Jesus College said “We are absolutely delighted with the news that Sir Peter Ratcliffe is sharing this year’s Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine. From 1992 to 2004 Sir Peter was a Senior Research Fellow in Clinical Medicine here at Jesus College where he taught and supervised clinical students. His dedication to clinical practice, teaching and research were a fantastic inspiration to those around him. He was a hugely collaborative colleague who worked with extraordinary energy and rigour.”
In 1980, Ratcliffe moved to Oxford University where he trained in renal medicine His research interest was on renal oxygenation. In 1989 he founded a new laboratory in Oxford at the MRC Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine, obtaining a Senior Fellowship from the Wellcome Trust to work on cellular oxygen sensing pathways. The lab explored the regulation of erythropoietin – a hormone responsible for stimulating the production of red blood cells, known to be turned on in kidney cells following oxygen deprivation.
Dr Christopher Winearls, Emeritus Fellow of Jesus College, who worked with Sir Peter for many years explains “Peter set about investigating how the erythropoietin gene is turned on, which DNA elements control its production, and which cells in the kidney and elsewhere synthesise it. His group showed that all cells have an oxygen sensing mechanism, which is important for the production of a variety of proteins apart from erythropoietin. A beautiful set of experiments revealed the delicate mechanism of how the genes for these proteins are switched on.”
The Ratcliffe group helped to uncover a detailed molecular chain of events that cells use to sense oxygen. This same pathway is also disrupted in many tumours, allowing them to create new blood vessels to sustain their growth. One reason there is so much interest in the study of hypoxia and cancer.
Sir Peter was appointed to the Nuffield Chair of Clinical Medicine in 2004 associated with a Fellowship at Magdalen College and served until 2016 combining research teaching and clinical responsivities in acute medicine. In 2014 he was knighted for services to medicine.