Education

Duke University alumnus and trustee wins Nobel Prize for discovery in cancer research

Dr. William Kaelin, a Duke University alumnus and trustee, received the 2019 Nobel Prize for Medicine.
Dr. William Kaelin, a Duke University alumnus and trustee, received the 2019 Nobel Prize for Medicine. Duke University

A Duke University alumnus and trustee was awarded the 2019 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine.

Dr. William G. Kaelin Jr. earned his undergraduate and medical degrees from Duke and is now a professor in the Department of Medicine at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute at Harvard Medical School. He is also an investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

Kaelin shares the prestigious award with two other scientists, Peter J. Ratcliffe and Gregg L. Semenza, for their discoveries of “how cells sense and adapt to oxygen availability,” the Nobel Committee announced Monday.

Their work “revealed the mechanism for one of life’s most essential adaptive processes” and will help find new ways to fight anemia, cancer, stroke and many other diseases.

The Nobel Assembly, which includes 50 professors at Karolinska Institutet, awards the Nobel Prize in this category. Scientists who have made the “most important discoveries for the benefit of mankind,” have been honored since 1901.

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Dr. William Kaelin, who received a Duke honorary degree in 2018, won the 2019 Nobel Prize for Medicine with two other scientists. Duke University

Kaelin studied chemistry and mathematics at Duke and graduated in 1979. He received his medical degree in 1982. Kaelin also received an honorary degree from Duke in 2018 and the Duke University School of Medicine Distinguished Alumni Award in 2007.

In July, he joined the Duke Board of Trustees.

“This is well-deserved recognition for such an impactful body of work,” Dr. Mary E. Klotman, dean of the Duke School of Medicine, said in a news release. “We are so very proud of our Duke Med alum.”

Kaelin is the third Duke alumnus to receive the Nobel Prize, according to the university. Robert Richardson and Charles Townes also received the award.

Two professors in Duke’s medical school, Robert Lefkowitz and Paul Modrich, have previously won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

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Kate Murphy covers higher education for The News & Observer. Previously, she covered higher education for the Cincinnati Enquirer on the investigative and enterprise team and USA Today Network. Her work has won state awards in Ohio and Kentucky and she was recently named a 2019 Education Writers Association finalist for digital storytelling.
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