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June 2012—The Institut de France awarded Gregg Semenza, M.D., Ph.D., the 2012 Lefoulon-Delalande Grand Prize for important contributions to cardiovascular biology and medicine. Semenza shares the award with William G. Kaelin, Jr., M.D., of Harvard Medical School and Peter J. Ratcliffe, M.D., of University of Oxford, for discovering the mechanism of how tissues adapt to lack of oxygen. The awardees share a $500,000 euro prize that was presented to them on June 6 in Paris, France.
Semenza, the C. Michael Armstrong Professor of Pediatrics, director of the vascular program at the Johns Hopkins Institute for Cell Engineering and a member of the McKusick-Nathans Institute of Genetic Medicine, identified the hypoxia-inducible factor (HIF-1) protein, which controls genes in response to changes in oxygen availability. When oxygen levels are low, HIF-1 turns on genes to make new blood cells and blood vessels. By increasing HIF-1 levels, Semenza’s research team hopes to develop treatments for stroke, circulation problems and heart disease. On the other hand, Semenza’s group discovered that elevated HIF-1 levels can bring new blood vessels to a tumor providing it with nutrients to grow and metastasize. The team later showed that drugs that lower HIF-1 levels have anti-cancer properties and may be used as cancer therapies.
Semenza has received several awards previously including the Gairdner Award, the Stanley J. Korsmeyer Award, the E. Mead Johnson Award for Research in Pediatrics, the Jean and Nicholas Leone Award, a Children's Brain Tumor Foundation Award, the American Heart Association Established Investigator Award and the Lucille P. Markey Scholar Award in Biomedical Science, and he was elected to the Association of American Physicians.