Skip to content

Learn about medical advances in cancer research

Dr. Bill Brown, originator of the popular InfoHealth sessions at the library, has another series, this one weekly, to learn about the awarding of the Nobel Prize.

Dr. Bill Brown, originator of the popular InfoHealth sessions at the library, has another series, this one weekly, to learn about the awarding of the Nobel Prize.

The importance of the “ultimate prize,” he explains, it that it is an annual benchmark of what is happening in the world of academic, cultural, or scientific advances.

This is the second year of the series, “and an excellent way to keep up-to-date with what’s happening in science (physics, chemistry and medicine), and the world’s more controversial prizes – the Peace, Economic and especially Literature prizes.”

For example, Brown says, both this year’s chemistry and economics prize are related to climate change, which demonstrates the importance of the issue on an international stage.

The awarding of the prizes, he says “have a profile. They tackle serious issues, and are used to send a message.”

The Nobel series at the Niagara-on-the-Lake Public Library are well-attended, with Brown doing some of the presentations and other experts in relevant fields speaking on others.

The work for which prizes are awarded help people understand the advances in several fields of importance — work that will shape changes that are occurring now, and into the future, “especially the near future.” says Brown, “This is work that will affect us, our children and our grandchildren.

The Nobel Prize series at the library dealt with economics this week. Brown is talking about the prize for medicine next Tuesday, Nov. 26.

This year’s prize in medicine (or physiology) was won by three people, William G. Kaelin, Peter J. Ratcliffe and Gregg L. Semenza. They won the prize for their work on the molecular underpinnings of the body’s oxygen sensing system, says Brown.

“The body’s response to hypoxia is complex and intriguing. The central character is a family of closely-related protein with the uninspiring acronym, HIF, one of thousands of transcription factors — or in English, proteins, capable of activating or suppressing genes. Left to its own devices, HIF activates those genes, which augment the body’s response to hypoxia by increasing red blood cell production, the development of new blood vessels to carry those oxygen-bearing red cells, and switching energy-generating pathways from highly efficient but oxygen-dependent oxidative pathways, to less efficient but oxygen-independent pathways. HIF transcription factors also play a role in inducing inflammatory responses,” explains Brown.

“Fortunately, when oxygen levels are normal, the body’s cells destroy HIF through a cascade of chemical reactions — one of which involves von Hipple Lindau protein (pVHL). The latter, in mutated form, increases the risk of a host of highly vascular tumours and other, much more common cancers.  Hence the interest these days in developing drugs which block key molecules in the oxygen-sensing system.”

Because HIF transcription factors are so key to systems involved with the body’s response to hypoxia, and beyond that, inflammatory responses and cancer, the Nobel committee awarded this well-deserved prize, says Brown. “But there was more to it than that – these investigators set a high standard for evidence and worked in a collegial fashion. That’s very important in science and life in general.” 

On Tuesday, Dec. 5, NOTL resident David Elkins is covering the Peace prize, and the final presentation of the series will be Dec. 10, with Valmai Elkins talking about the prize in literature.

Brown’s presentation on the Nobel prize for medicine is Tuesday, Nov. 26. All are at 2 p.m. at the NOTL Public Library.