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Effect of oxygen levels on cell metabolism

Date: 13 October 2019 Tags: Miscellaneous


 The Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine this year was awarded to three scientists, for their discovery of how cells sense and adapt to oxygen availability.



Three scientists have uncovered the genetic mechanisms that allow cells to respond to varying levels of oxygen. While oxygen is essential for the survival of cells, excess or too little oxygen can lead to adverse health consequences.



  • Oxygen is used by all cells to convert food to useful energy. Oxygen supply temporarily reduces in muscles during intense exercise and under such conditions the cells adapt their metabolism to low oxygen levels.

  • Proper growth of the foetus and placenta depends on the ability of the cells to sense oxygen.

  • Drugs have already been developed to treat anaemia by making the body produce increased number of red blood cells.

  • Many diseases can be treated by increasing the function of a particular pathway of the oxygen-sensing machinery.

  • Inhibiting or blocking the pathway will have implications in treating cancer, heart attack, stroke and pulmonary hypertension.

Importance in Cancer research

  • Cancers are known to hijack the oxygen-regulation machinery to stimulate blood vessel formation and also re-programme the metabolism in order to adapt to low oxygen conditions.

  • The reprogramming of metabolism gives cancer cells the ability to shift from a state where they have limited potential to cause cancer to a state when they have greater potential for long-term growth.

  • Efforts are under way to develop drugs that can block the oxygen-sensing machinery of cancer cells to kill them.

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