Gregg L. Semenza

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Gregg L. Semenza
Gregg Leonard Semenza

(1956-07-12) July 12, 1956 (age 63)
Education Harvard University (BA)
University of Pennsylvania (MD, PhD)
Known for Hypoxia-inducible factors
Spouse(s) Laura Kasch-Semenza
Awards Albert Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research (2016)
Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine (2019)
Scientific career
Institutions Johns Hopkins School of Medicine
Thesis Molecular genetic analysis of the silent carrier of beta thalassemia (haplotype) (1984)
Doctoral advisors Elias Schwartz
Saul Surrey

Gregg Leonard Semenza (born July 12, 1956) is an American Nobel Laureate who is the professor of pediatrics, radiation oncology, biological chemistry, medicine, and oncology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. He serves as the director of the vascular program at the Institute for Cell Engineering.[1] He is a 2016 recipient of the Albert Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research.[2] He is known for his discovery of HIF-1, which allows cancer cells to adapt to oxygen-poor environments. He shared the 2019 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for "discoveries of how cells sense and adapt to oxygen availability" with William Kaelin Jr. and Peter J. Ratcliffe.[3][4]

Early life

Semenza was born on July 12, 1956,[5] in Flushing, New York City and he and his four siblings grew up in Westchester County, New York.[6]

Education and career

Semenza grew up in Westchester County, New York and attended Washington Irving Intermediate School in Tarrytown, New York. He then attended Sleepy Hollow High School where he was a mid-fielder on the soccer team and graduated in 1974.[6] As an undergraduate at Harvard University, he studied medical genetics and mapped genes on chromosome 21.[6] For his PhD at the University of Pennsylvania, he sequenced genes linked to the recessive genetic disorder, beta-thalassemia[6][7][8] Semenza subsequently completed his pediatrics residency at Duke University Hospital[9] before completing a postdoctoral fellowship at Johns Hopkins University.[6] Semenza became the founding director of the Vascular Program at the Johns Hopkins Institute for Cell Engineering following his post-doctorate.[6]


Illustration of how cells sense and adapt to oxygen availability

While a post-doctorate researcher at John Hopkins, Semenza evaluated gene expression in transgenic animals to determine how this affected the production of erythropoietin (EPO), known to be part of the means for the body to react to hypoxia, or low oxygen levels in the blood.[10] Semenza identified the gene sequences that expressed hypoxia-inducible factors (HIF) proteins. Semenza's work showed that the HIF proteins consisted of two parts; HIF-1β, a stable base to most conditions, and HIF-1α that deteriorated when nominal oxygen levels were present. HIF-1α was further found essential to the EPO production process, as test subjects modified to be deficient in HIF-1α were found to have malformed blood vessels and decreased EPO levels. These HIF proteins were found across multiple test animals.[10] Semenza further found that HIF-1α overproduction could lead to cancer in other subjects.[10]

Semenza's research overlapped with that of William Kaelin and Peter J. Ratcliffe on determining the mechanism of oxygen detection in cells, and how EPO production is regulated by HIF and other factors. This has led to the development of drugs that help regulate these processes for patients with anaemia and kidney failure.[11]

Personal life

Semenza is married to Laura Kasch-Semenza, whom he had met while at Johns Hopkins, and who currently operates one of the university's genotyping facilities. [6]

In 2019, Semenza fell and broke several vertebrae in his neck. [12]



  1. ^ "Gregg L. Semenza, M.D., Ph.D."
  2. ^ Foundation, Lasker. "Oxygen sensing – an essential process for survival - The Lasker Foundation". The Lasker Foundation.
  3. ^ "The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2019". Retrieved October 7, 2019.
  4. ^ a b Kolata, Gina; Specia, Megan (October 7, 2019). "Nobel Prize in Medicine Awarded for Research on How Cells Manage Oxygen - The prize was awarded to William G. Kaelin Jr., Peter J. Ratcliffe and Gregg L. Semenza for discoveries about how cells sense and adapt to oxygen availability". The New York Times. Retrieved October 8, 2019.
  5. ^ "Gregg L. Semenza: Facts". Retrieved October 9, 2019.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g Ahmed, Farooq (August 17, 2010). "Profile of Gregg L. Semenza". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 107 (33): 14521–14523. doi:10.1073/pnas.1009481107. PMC 2930469. PMID 20679204.
  7. ^ "Johns Hopkins geneticist Gregg Semenza wins Lasker Award for insights into how cells sense oxygen". September 13, 2016.
  8. ^ Semenza, Gregg Leonard (1984). Molecular genetic analysis of the silent carrier of beta thalassemia (haplotype) (Ph.D. thesis). University of Pennsylvania. OCLC 1049531609 – via ProQuest.
  9. ^ "Gairdner Award". October 7, 2019.
  10. ^ a b c d Hurst, Jillian H. (September 13, 2016). "William Kaelin, Peter Ratcliffe, and Gregg Semenza receive the 2016 Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award". The Journal of Clinical Investigation. 126 (10): 3628–3638. doi:10.1172/JCI90055. ISSN 0021-9738. PMC 5096796. PMID 27620538. Further support for an oxygen-sensing mechanism was provided by the discovery of erythropoietin (EPO), a glycoprotein hormone that stimulates erythrocyte production [...] During the same time period in which Semenza was developing EPO-transgenic mice, Peter Ratcliffe, a physician and kidney specialist, was establishing a laboratory in Oxford University’s Nuffield Department of Medicine to study the regulation of EPO
  11. ^ Ledford, Heidi; Callaway, Ewen (October 7, 2019). "Biologists who decoded how cells sense oxygen win medicine Nobel". Nature. 574 (7777): 161–162. doi:10.1038/d41586-019-02963-0. PMID 31595071.
  12. ^ Kupferschmidt, Kai (October 11, 2019). "Cellular oxygen sensor system earns Nobel for trio". Science. 366 (6462): 167.
  13. ^ "Gregg L. Semenza, M.D., Ph.D." Johns Hopkins Medicine. Retrieved October 8, 2019.
  14. ^ "Gregg L. Semenza, MD, PhD". American Society for Clinical Investigation. Retrieved October 7, 2019.
  15. ^ "E. Mead Johnson Award in Pediatric Research". Archived version of American Pediatric Society website. Retrieved October 7, 2019.
  16. ^ "72 New Members Chosen By Academy". Retrieved October 7, 2019.
  17. ^ "2008 Elected Members". Association of American Physicians. December 20, 2019. Retrieved October 8, 2019.
  18. ^ "Gregg L. Semenza, M.D., Ph.D." Johns Hopkins Medicine. Retrieved October 8, 2019.
  19. ^ "Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine awarded to 2010 Gairdner Laureates". October 7, 2019. Retrieved October 7, 2019.
  20. ^ "Two NAM Members Receive Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award". Retrieved October 7, 2019.
  21. ^ "Gregg L. Semenza". Institut de France. Grands Prix des Fondations. April 21, 2015. Retrieved December 12, 2017.
  22. ^ "The 2012 Stanley J. Korsmeyer Award: William G. Kaelin, Jr., MD, and Gregg L. Semenza, MD, PhD". Retrieved October 7, 2019.
  23. ^ "Wiley: The 13th Annual Wiley Prize in Biomedical Sciences Awarded for Advancements in Oxygen Sensing Systems". Retrieved October 7, 2019.
  24. ^ Foundation, Lasker. "Oxygen sensing – an essential process for survival". The Lasker Foundation. Retrieved October 7, 2019.
  25. ^ Gallagher, James (October 7, 2019). "How cells sense oxygen wins Nobel prize". Retrieved October 7, 2019.
  26. ^ "The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2019". Retrieved October 8, 2019.
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