Peter J. Ratcliffe- Tackling ailments through genetic modification.
Sir Peter J. Ratcliffe is the 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. He was announced as the winner of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in September, 2019.
Dr. Ratcliffe?s area of research was concentrated on analysing the oxygen response mechanism present in our body. The immediate response of our bodies to low levels of oxygen (hypoxia) is the consequent release of a boost of red blood cells in order to carry more oxygen. His efforts to resolve this mechanism started over 30 years ago.
Ratcliffe worked specifically on renal oxygenation and 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.
Hypoxia is an important component of many human diseases including cancer, heart disease, stroke, vascular disease, and anaemia. Dr. Ratcliffe sought to understand how the reactions of the body to low oxygen levels could be activated and deactivated in order to address other ailments, through appropriate medication. While doing research in this area, Dr. Ratcliffe identified a DNA sequence that is necessary for hypoxia dependant activation. This DNA sequence was then tested on mammals, whereby, the DNA sequence was placed adjacent to other genes so as to renders those genes inducible by low-oxygen conditions too. This DNA sequence was discovered by Dr. Ratcliffe and was named the Hypoxia-Inducible Factor 1 (HIF-1). It was successfully observed that when this gene was placed adjacent to other genes, it induced low-oxygen conditions such as the boost of production of red blood cells. These red blood cells are crucial in dealing with various ailments. Therefore, the discovery of this gene that induced production of red blood cells has been successful in addressing anaemia, which is essentially a rare condition in which insufficient new blood cells are produced by bone marrow due to stem cell damage.
Dr. Ratcliffe?s work has created a link between modification of biochemical pathways to control physiological factors. This research is now being used by major pharmaceutical companies to devise new forms of medication to address ailments. Therefore, his work in this area has opened up new avenues to tackling ailments like cancer, anaemia and many other diseases.