1. Uncovering the significance of hypoxia in cancer science
A discovery so significant that it warranted a Nobel prize: Sir Peter Ratcliffe is famed for his work on oxygen deprivation (hypoxia) and subsequent cellular responses.
Cancers have unique microenvironments, which they must overcome in order to grow rapidly and uncontrollably. By understanding these conditions and how they come about, clinicians and researchers can strive to develop new drugs to reverse or suppress these pathways.
During his time in Oxford’s Nuffield Department of Medicine, Sir Peter discovered that a specific hormone, known as EPO, was involved in the production of blood cells in response to low oxygen levels in the kidneys. The underlying mechanism behind this process was later applied to cancer, and explained how cancers could create new blood vessels to sustain their fast and uncontrolled growth. This discovery was so significant, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 2019. Ratcliffe’s work into EPO has paved the way for the development of new drugs to improve the efficacy of cancer treatments.
NOW: Continuing this important work into tumour microenvironments, the Oxford ARCADIAN project is now investigating how common antimalarial drug Atovaquone can help to reduce the hypoxic environment of tumours and improve the efficacy of treatments such as radiation.