Here’s Why This 2019 Nobel Prize Is Breathtaking…

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Do any of the following apply to you?

—You’re hard-pressed to find some good news in the public sphere
—You’re troubled about the anti-scientist trends swirling around
—You have, have had, or know someone who’s had anemia
—You have, have had, or know someone who’s had a heart attack or stroke
—You have, have had, or know someone who’s had cancer
—You’d like to live in a place with a higher altitude than you currently can handle
—You’d like to improve your sports performance

If so, you may find the 2019 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine as exciting as I do. And the above list of diseases and circumstances is merely the beginning of what scientists believe will be the impact of the work the Nobel Committee has just recognized.

The three recipients, two Americans and a Brit, pieced together a series of discoveries—their own and some preceding and/or complementing their work—to discern what one scientist called the “thermostat” that enables cells to regulate the amount of oxygen needed to do its work: convert food into energy. The Nobel Committee referred to this mechanism as “one of life’s most essential adaptive processes.”

As the Nobel Prize press release states:

“The fundamental importance of oxygen has been understood for centuries, but how cells adapt to changes in levels of oxygen has long been unknown.”

The “thermostat” the honorees discovered is comprised of a series of molecular occurrences by which cells sense too much or too little oxygen and respond accordingly.

Describing the Breathtaking Work

(From the Nobel press release)

“Thanks to the groundbreaking work of these Nobel Laureates, we know much more about how different oxygen levels regulate fundamental physiological processes. Oxygen sensing allows cells to adapt their metabolism to low oxygen levels: for example, in our muscles during intense exercise.

“Other examples of adaptive processes controlled by oxygen sensing include the generation of new blood vessels and the production of red blood cells. Our immune system and many other physiological functions are also fine-tuned by the O2-sensing machinery.

“Oxygen sensing has even been shown to be essential during fetal development for controlling normal blood vessel formation and placenta development.”

These are the three new Nobel Laureates:  William G. Kaelin Jr., MD, of Harvard University in Boston, Massachusetts; Gregg L. Semenza, MD, PhD, of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland; and Sir Peter J. Ratcliffe, FMedSci, of Oxford University in the United Kingdom.

Concerning the relevance of their findings to major diseases, the Washington Post  quoted Isha Jain, a scientist at the University of California in San Francisco:

“If you think of the main causes of death in the US, three out of five are related to lack of oxygen,” [including heart attack, stroke, and respiratory diseases]. “Understanding how the body senses and responds to low oxygen is pretty fundamental to all these diseases.”

Semenza said he and his colleagues hope that new therapies may increase the passage of blood into tissue with reduced blood flow “in diseases such as coronary heart disease and also limb ischemia, which is a major problem, particularly in diabetics, leading in some cases to limb amputation.”

And then there’s cancer. The Nobel press release explains:

“The oxygen-regulated machinery has an important role in cancer. In tumors, the oxygen-regulated machinery is utilized to stimulate blood vessel formation and reshape metabolism for effective proliferation of cancer cells.”

Semenza told the Associated Press:

“Whereas most of the chemotherapy drugs are designed to kill dividing cells that are well oxygenated, there are no treatments that are approved to treat the hypoxic cells within the cancer. We believe it’s these cells that survive the therapy and come back and kill the patient.”

From “Bench to Bedside”…

Or from lab to life-saving: such action is well under way, the press release reports.

“Intense ongoing efforts in academic laboratories and pharmaceutical companies are now focused on developing drugs that can interfere with different disease states by either activating, or blocking, the oxygen-sensing machinery.”

The first clinical application, a drug to combat anemia, was recently approved in China, and it is now under consideration in several European countries.

Semenza’s work was seminal to the total effort. In the 1990s, he and his group identified genes that were activated when oxygen levels were low to raise the levels of erythropoietin (EPO), a hormone secreted by the kidneys essential to producing the oxygen-laden red blood cells.

The oxygen-sensing mechanism was originally believed to be located only in the kidneys, but both Semenza and Ratcliffe subsequently found, among other things, that it exists in nearly all cells.

Moving from the profound to the less-so, The Washington Post notes that:

“This is the same basic mechanism behind doping, in which endurance athletes try to increase their supply of oxygen-carrying red blood cells.”

Though Semenza’s early article describing that research has now received thousands of journal citations, it was initially rejected by the “top tier journals,” which, he said, “didn’t find it to be of sufficient interest to warrant publication.”

(A note of encouragement to all who aspire to publication in any field of endeavor, don’t you think?)

For those who are interested in the scientific nitty-gritty, the Nobel release provides the road map of individual discoveries by the three researchers and others that yielded this dramatic finding.

Lessons Beyond the Discoveries Themselves

One of the things I especially like about this story is that these men, while working independently over decades, also shared their unpublished data with one another—“sometimes at scientific meetings, sometimes at the bar,” said Kaelin.

No secret patents here; no rivalry to be “the first.” As one made a discovery that he knew was an important piece of the puzzle, he described it to his colleagues.

I’ve no idea whether, or to what extent, this collaborative approach was influenced by their funding sources, but it’s worth noting that a National Institutes of Health (NIH) press release touted the US government’s role in supporting both American scientists’ work, and the American Heart Association stated it underwrote Semenza’s early work. The European Research Council (ERC) supported Ratcliffe’s work.

Two more issues are worth noting. One is that Semenza, who is a professor of genetics at Johns Hopkins, credited his wonderful high school biology teacher, the late Rose Nelson.

“She used to say to us, ‘When you win your Nobel Prize, I don’t want you to forget that you learned that here.’ She just assumed that one of us was going to do that…She was my inspiration, and I think that is the importance of teachers, to serve as that kind of spark.”

The other is Kaelin’s emphasis, as the Washington Post reported:

 “The prize underscores the importance of doing research to follow curiosity and unravel basic biology. He and the other scientists hoped, but did not know, that unraveling how cells sense oxygen could spark ideas for new approaches for human diseases, including stroke and cancer.”

Said Kaelin:

“This kind of research is increasingly under threat. It’s much easier for fundraisers and policymakers to say we will support scientists, but…tell us how it will improve outcomes in five years.

“When you’re doing real science, you have to be prepared to take the road where it takes you—and if you’re doing science, it’s hard to predict where the road is going to take you.”

Will you join me in a virtual round of applause for scientists dwelling for decades on basic research, facilitated by public funding?

Their research won’t always take us where these three eminent researchers have—but when it does, the benefits to us, individually and worldwide, can be immeasurable.

Annie

I’M SO PLEASED TO HAVE BEEN NOMINATED FOR THE VERSATILE BLOGGER AWARD

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Dracul Van Helsing recently nominated me for The Versatile Blogger Award.
Thank you so much, Dracul, for your support of my blogging efforts.

Dracul’s blog can be found at https://draculvanhelsing.wordpress.com.

He writes fantastical and incredibly complex (often hilarious) tales interwoven with past and present world events, each story closing as follows: “—A vampire novel chapter written by Christopher.” He also writes some very good poetry.
I encourage everyone to visit his blog; I believe that, like me, you’ll marvel at his versatility.

WHAT IS THE VERSATILE BLOGGER AWARD?
“The Versatile Blogger Award was created to celebrate blogs that have unique content, strong writing, and beautiful images or photographs.”

[A brief divergence from the format: Writers are generally advised to “write what you know,” and to find a niche and develop expertise, so I thought I was being undisciplined by just following my curiosity wherever it takes me—sometimes well beyond my comfort zone. But that’s what I wanted to do, and I love learning about new topics. Since I’m the boss here, that’s what I’m doing. And now I’m being honored for my versatility. Who knew?]

RULES
-Thank the person who gave you the award.
-Include a link to their blog.
-Select 7 blogs/bloggers that you’ve recently discovered or follow regularly.
-Nominate those bloggers for the Versatile Blogger Award.
-Finally, tell the person who nominated you 7 things about yourself.

[I stress that these nominations do not imply that I agree with all the sentiments expressed by these bloggers. Often, I strongly disagree. But I feel they have interesting things to say and frequently include wonderful photos, and I enjoy reading their blogs.]

I’M FORWARDING THIS AWARD TO:
https://jpcavanaugh.com
https://lensdiary.blog
https://www.juliaelizabethblog.com
https://leavingfootprintseverywhere.wordpress.com
https://myexpressionofthoughtsblog.wordpress.com
https://creativityoverloaders.wordpress.com
https://ginisnaturenews.com

7 THINGS ABOUT ME
1. I am one happy blogger: I love the writing, the research, the dialogue with my readers, and the sense of being part of this wonderful international blogging community.
2. I consider myself extremely fortunate to be surrounded by caring people: my immediate family, extended family, and friends from various times in my life—some of whom I’ve reconnected with via this blog.
3. My musical tastes are diverse, including (I’m mixing composers and performers) Beethoven and Chopin, Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald, Audra McDonald and Lady Gaga.
4. The most extraordinary non-fiction book I’ve read recently is An Odyssey: A Father, A Son, and an Epic, by Daniel Mendelsohn.
5. The most enjoyable novels I’ve read recently are The Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante (author’s true identity remains a matter of controversy, but who cares?).
6. I’m an unabashed bleeding heart liberal (now progressive) who weeps at the thought of babies torn from their mothers’ arms and of the senseless ending of so many innocent lives by people armed with grudges and automatic weapons that should only be in the hands of the military.
7. I am deeply concerned about the apparent fragility of our democracy and the polarization that divides us, but I continue to believe that deep down—beyond the fear and anger—we humans all have similar needs and wants. And I fervently hope we find leadership that will inspire us and focus on the things that unite us: that vast area of common ground.

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Memo to all, especially my non-blogging subscribers: As you know, annieasksyou emphasizes dialogue, so although this format is different from what you’re used to, please feel free to register your thoughts, comments, and likes as always.

Next week, with gratitude to Christopher (aka Dracul Van Helsing) for nominating me for not one, but two awards, we return to our customary format, covering a topic that will once again demonstrate my lack of discipline/versatility.

Annie

‘Tis a Mystery: I Have Been Nominated for the Mystery Blogger Award

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I am honored to have been nominated by Dracul Van Helsing for the prestigious Mystery Blogger Award.

Dracul’s blog can be found at:
https://draculvanhelsing.wordpress.com

His blog bears the subtitle: “The Life, Thoughts, and Reflections of a Vampire Hunter,” but if that topic turns you off (my initial reaction), don’t let it. An enormously creative and well-informed mind weaves together past and present, real and unreal, mythic and surreal into well-crafted stories that are often hilarious and frequently pointed observations on the foibles and wackiness of our time.

Thank you so much for this nomination, Dracul.

WHAT IS THE MYSTERY BLOGGER AWARD?
“Mystery Blogger Award is an award for amazing bloggers with ingenious posts. Their blog not only captivates; it inspires and motivates. They are one of the best out there and they deserve every recognition they get. This award is also for bloggers who find fun and inspiration in blogging, and they do it with so much love and passion.”
-Okoto Enigma

Dracul, I am delighted that you think I deserve this award.

RULES:
1. Put the Award Logo/Image On Your Blog. Here I feel justified in patting myself on the back. As those of you who have read my descriptions of my technical snafus well know, the fact that I have actually pulled together sufficient technical knowledge to have a functioning blog is amazing enough.

One of my first posts was published with nothing on it, and my scramble with the help of the WordPress Happiness Engineers to find the mysteriously disappearing text devolved into what I’ve described as a clash between my reptilian brain (the part that governs fight/flight/freeze, as well as hunger) and my prefrontal cortex (the part that governs complex thinking and behavior). On that particular night, I still vividly recall, the ole lizard ran rampant across my computer.

So I had little hope of actually capturing that image and importing it onto my post. But voila! There it is, in the place where I believe it belongs. And maybe, just maybe,  by accomplishing this task, I’ve forged a couple more neural synapses in this non-techie brain…

2. List the Rules.
I believe I am in the process of doing that at this moment.
3. Thank the creator of the award and provide a link as well.
I think I’ve checked that box as well; see above.
4. Tell your readers 3 things about yourself (Here’s where the challenge begins. See below).
5. Nominate 10 to 20 people (See below for this one too).
6. Notify your nominees by commenting on their blog (I promise to do so).
7. Ask your nominees any 5 questions of your choice; with one weird or funny question.

3 THINGS ABOUT ME
1. I am seriously dog-deprived at present, so if you have a floppy pup or any kind of retriever, you should keep your distance from me so that I don’t accidentally walk off with him/her/them. I readily acknowledge my preference for long snouts, so you bulldog and sharpei owners needn’t worry.

2. I try to practice mindfulness meditation, but I still haven’t learned well how to deal with my “inner critic,” the judgmental voice in my head. Sharon Salzberg, a renowned mindfulness teacher, suggests naming one’s inner critic and then simply accepting the criticisms with kindness and interest. She calls her inner critic Lucy, after the Charles Schulz character who said to Charlie Brown: “The problem with you, Charlie, is that you’re you.” She gave me permission to borrow Lucy, whom I evoke when I remember. (You see, Lucy, we’re all friends here; it’s gonna be OK.)

3. I’ve long harbored the rather modest goal of wanting my words to change the world—preferably for the better. These days, if I can just make people smile, I’m happy to do so.

DRACUL’S QUESTIONS
1.
If you were stranded on a desert island and the film projector you miraculously managed to rescue from your sinking ship only had 5 movies available on its reels, what 5 movies would you wish they be?
Well, here we turn to mystery—or certainly miracles—presupposing that a) I could swim to safety carrying a film projector (I lift weights, but I’m not such a strong swimmer); and b) I’d have the technical expertise to run the darn thing once I got to dry land (or perhaps to a luxury yacht…that would solve concern b). And would I have to rescue the large screen as well?
North by Northwest
Casablanca
The Lives of Others
Cinema Paradiso
Midnight in Paris (I know, I know, it’s Woody Allen, but I still love it.)

2.
What would be an ideal dinner for you?
One of my most memorable meals was rijstaffel in Amsterdam: I loved the variety and deliciousness of all the small dishes. I’d really like a redo—perhaps in Indonesia…

3.
If you could have coffee with any person in history, who would it be and why?
Eleanor Roosevelt because she was such an extraordinary person and had such a positive influence on her husband. I would have questions, though, such as: How could you have let Franklin exclude African Americans from the benefits of the New Deal? How could you have let him turn back the St. Louis, carrying Jews fleeing Nazi Germany? Did you try to stop the Japanese internment camps? Variations on these questions unfortunately resonate in our time.

4.
What person in literature do you wish had actually lived in reality?
One or more of Shakespeare’s strong women: Rosalind in As You Like It; Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing; or Viola in Twelfth Night. Lady MacBeth? Not so much…

5.
What type of water do you prefer to swim in? Fresh water or salt water?
Any water that when I stand up, the bottom isn’t slimy and little critters aren’t nibbling at my toes. I am not one who wishes to swim with the fishes, literally or figuratively.

MY QUESTIONS:
1.What is the single thing about blogging that you value the most?
2.What episode or aspect of your life would you be most eager to “do over,” if you could?
3.What brings you the greatest personal satisfaction?
4.What musical instrument best describes your personality—and why?
5.If you could perform a single act that you felt would contribute to world peace, what would it be?

A few items before I note my nominees.

1) I know there are many wonderful bloggers out there whom I’ve never had the opportunity to come across, in part because you are so numerous; in part because I’ve been so busy writing and learning the technical aspects of this new adventure that I haven’t yet had the pleasure of your acquaintance. Thus, my nominees are people I know about because for the most part they found me–or we found each other.

2) My nominations do not necessarily mean I endorse their views. In fact, sometimes I emphatically disagree with them. But I believe they display lively minds, often tackle difficult issues, and are effective in conveying their thoughts, and I enjoy reading their posts.

I nominate:

J.P.’s Blog: https://jpcavanaugh.com
Fictionista-Flash Fiction/Musing: https://darnellcureton.com
Stuart Perkins: https://storyshucker.wordpress.com
https://leavingfootprintseverywhere.wordpress.com
JSchuman: https://dividedwefall.com
Joseph Urban: The Old Liberal, https://josephurban.wordpress.com
https://thecontroversialindian.wordpress.com
Doug Gilbert, Poet Laureate of the Primitive Planet: https://xytgeist.wordpress.com

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Memo to all, especially my non-blogging subscribers: As you know, annieasksyou emphasizes dialogue, so although this format is different from what you’re used to, please feel free to register your thoughts and comments as always.

Annie