William Kaelin Jr., an HMS professor of medicine, has been named a recipient of the 2016 Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research from the Albert and Mary Lasker Foundation. The Lasker is one of the world’s most prestigious biomedical research awards.
Kaelin, based at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, was cited along with Peter Ratcliffe of the University of Oxford/Francis Crick Institute and Gregg Semenza of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, for the discovery of the pathway by which cells from humans and most animals sense and adapt to changes in oxygen availability—a process essential for survival.
“Bill Kaelin is an outstanding physician, scientist, and educator,” said Barbara McNeil ’66, acting dean of HMS. “I am delighted that his extraordinary dedication, his years of hard work, and his remarkable discoveries have been recognized by the Lasker Foundation.”
Kaelin’s research explores why mutations in tumor-suppressor genes can lead to cancer. His study of a tumor-suppressor gene called VHL provided key insights into the body’s response to changes in oxygen levels.
Kaelin discovered that VHL helps control the levels of a protein known as HIF, which regulates responses to low oxygen levels, such as in the production of red blood cells and new blood vessels.
His subsequent discovery of a molecular switch that renders HIF oxygen sensitive was critical to the understanding of how cells react to variations in oxygen level.
For 71 years, the Lasker Awards have recognized the works of scientists, clinicians, and public citizens who have advanced the understanding, diagnosis, treatment, cure, or prevention of human disease. Eighty-seven Lasker laureates have received a Nobel Prize, including forty-one over the past three decades.