Science has long known the importance of breathing, but how our cells adapt to changing oxygen levels had been unknown until now.
Three scientists have won this year’s Nobel Prize for their discovery of how our cells sense oxygen levels and adapt to low levels, according to The Guardian. The medical prize is shared by Sir Peter Ratcliffe, of the University of Oxford and Francis Crick Institute, William Kaelin, of Harvard, and Gregg Semenza, of Johns Hopkins University.
The Swedish Academy, which awards the prize, said to the BBC: “The fundamental importance of oxygen has been understood for centuries but how cells adapt to changes in levels of oxygen has long been unknown.”
Oxygen levels vary in the body, especially when we exercise, are high altitudes, or have an open, bleeding wound. When these levels drop, our cells have to rapidly change their metabolism.
This oxygen-sensing ability is so important because it plays a major role in our immune systems. When our oxygen levels are low, it triggers the production of new red blood cells. These new cells allow the body to carry more oxygen.
This discovery has allowed researchers to explore new routes to treatments for anemia, cancer, heart disease, and other conditions.
If medications are able to mimic low oxygen levels to produce red blood cells, they may be an effective treatment for anemia. Meanwhile, tumors are able to abuse this process and selfishly produce new blood vessels and gross. Drugs that work to reverse this, may help halt cancer.
Dr Andrew Murray, from the University of Cambridge, said, “The work of these three scientists and their teams has paved the way to a greater understanding of these common, life-threatening conditions and new strategies to treat them.”
These discoveries further show how truly important our breath is. There is now irrefutable evidence about how much we breath physically changes us. The next time you have a chance, take some time to stop and allow yourself to truly appreciate your breath.