Sir Peter Ratcliffe, Clinical Research Director at the Francis Crick Institute, has won the 2016 Lasker Award for basic medical research - one of the most prestigious science prizes in the world - with William G Kaelin and Gregg L Semenza.
Peter, William Kaelin and Gregg Semenza won the award for their discovery of the pathway by which cells sense and adapt to changes in oxygen availability, a process that is essential for survival.
For 71 years, the Lasker Awards, America's most prestigious biomedical research awards, have recognized the contributions of scientists, clinicians, and public citizens who have made major advances in the understanding, diagnosis, treatment, cure, or prevention of human disease. Eighty-seven Lasker laureates have received the Nobel Prize, including 41 in the last three decades.
Animals require oxygen to extract energy from food, but too much of the chemical creates peril, as certain oxygen-containing compounds wreak molecular havoc. To handle this challenge, organisms have evolved elaborate systems to furnish optimal supplies. Peter, with William Kaelin and Gregg Semenza, deciphered the core molecular events that explain how almost all multicellular animals tune their physiology to cope with varying quantities of life-sustaining oxygen, thus exposing a unique signalling scheme.
The biological processes that these findings revealed have unearthed possible strategies to rev up or reign in the body's response to oxygen, possibly leading toward new therapeutics for a wide range of disorders such as anaemia, cardiovascular disease, macular degeneration, and cancer.
Peter Ratcliffe MD, of the Francis Crick Institute and the University of Oxford, trained as a nephrologist (kidney specialist), then founded the Oxford Hypoxia Biology Laboratory, initially studying the regulation of erythropoietin by the kidney. His laboratory demonstrated the existence of a widespread system of oxygen sensing in animal cells and elucidated the mechanism by which oxygen levels are signalled though the post-translational hydroxylation of the key transcription factor Hypoxia Inducible Factor (HIF). The laboratory is currently engaged in the biochemical and physiological characterization of these and related oxygenases, and in the exploration of their therapeutic potential in human disease.
Peter received his degrees and medical training from the University of Cambridge, University of Oxford and St Bartholomew's Hospital, London. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society and a recipient several international awards, including the Louis-Jeantet Prize for Medicine and the Canada Gairdner International Award. He was knighted for his services to medicine in 2014.
He took up the position of Director of Clinical Research at the Francis Crick Institute in May 2016, and in June 2016 he took up the position of Director of the Target Discovery Institute at the University of Oxford, splitting his time equally between Oxford and the Crick.
'Innovative and highly original achievements'
Claire Pomeroy, President of the Lasker Foundation, says: 'The work of this year's honorees epitomizes the power and impact of dedication to rigorous and innovative medical research. The innovative and highly original achievements of these scientists highlight the critical importance of sustained support for biomedical research in attaining a healthier future for all.'
Peter says: 'I'm honoured to have won this award with Bill and Gregg. I hope that our work helps demonstrate the importance of curiosity-driven discovery research: investigating how the human body works, not with a specific aim in mind, but for the sake of understanding. It's this fundamental knowledge which opens the door for improvements in health.'
Paul Nurse, Director of the Francis Crick Institute, says: 'On behalf of everyone at the Crick, I congratulate Peter most warmly on receiving the Lasker Award.'
Recipients of the Lasker Medical Research Awards are selected by a distinguished international jury chaired by Joseph L Goldstein, recipient of the 1985 Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research and the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. The 2016 Lasker Awards, which carry an honorarium of $250,000, will be presented on 23 September in New York.