Gregg L. Semenza, M'82, GR'84 Receives Nobel Prize for Medicine

October 7, 2019

To:Faculty, Students and Staff

From:J. Larry Jameson, MD, PhD
Jonathan A. Epstein, MD

We are delighted to share the news that Penn Medicine graduate Gregg L. Semenza, M’82, GR’84, this morning was among three investigators awarded the 2019 Nobel Prize in Medicine or Physiology. He is part of a proud tradition of excellence among our alumni and faculty, becoming the ninth individual affiliated with Penn to receive the prize.

Dr. Semenza, who earned his MD from the Perelman School of Medicine in 1982 and his PhD in Genetics in 1984, received the prize along with Dr. William Kaelin Jr. of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Harvard Medical School, and Sir Peter Ratcliffe of University of Oxford. The three laureates independently described the mechanisms that help cells sense and adapt to the availability of oxygen — which is needed by cells for metabolism and growth — and how they influence gene expression. The Nobel committee lauded the trio’s discoveries for having paved the way for "promising new strategies to fight anaemia, cancer and many other diseases."

Dr. Semenza is an American Cancer Society Research Professor and the C. Michael Armstrong Professor at Johns Hopkins with appointments in Genetic Medicine, Pediatrics, Medicine, Oncology, Radiation Oncology, and Biological Chemistry. Since 2003, he has served as founding Director of the Vascular Program in the Johns Hopkins Institute for Cell Engineering. Dr. Semenza’s laboratory identified hypoxia-inducible factor 1 (HIF-1), a transcriptional activator that allows cells to respond to changes in oxygen availability.

He was also a recipient of the 2016 Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award and has published over 400 papers that have been cited more than 100,000 times.

Dr. Semenza is the fourth PSOM graduate to have been awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, along with: Gerald Edelman, M’54; Michael Brown, M’66’; and Stanley Prusiner, M’68. In addition, since 1922, the Prize has gone to five members of the Penn faculty. To have such a distinguished group of research pioneers connected to our institution is a tremendous credit to the spirit of discovery that propels our work each day.

Please join us in taking pride in his achievement and extending enthusiastic congratulations to Dr. Semenza.