When leading doctors in Berlin meet at the Charité Theater for "Nobel Watch" on Monday, there's one name in the air: Emmanuelle Charpentier. The French microbiologist, who has been the director of Berlin's Max Planck Institute for Infectious Biology since 2015, is one of the creators of the "Crispr" gene scissors by which DNA can be purposefully cut and modified.
For this discovery, Charpentier has been traded for years as a candidate for the Nobel Prize in Medicine. Even before the start of the live broadcast in Stockholm, her colleagues in Berlin call her a possible – and absolutely desirable – winner.
But it is clear shortly after half past eleven: the price does not go to Berlin. Instead, American researchers William Kaelin and Gregg Semenza and Briton Peter Ratcliffe are honored to discover the molecular mechanisms by which cells perceive oxygen levels. The disappointment is not felt in the hall – on the contrary.
Award after decades of research
Thus, Ivar Roots, president of the Berlin Medical Society, is pleased with the "direct hit of the Nobel Committee." The award recognizes the discovery of a very general principle that is extremely important for many biochemical processes in the cell. "Investing in basic research is always an investment in the future," Roots told Tagesspiegel. For decades researchers have researched in this field, now they would be rewarded.
Reinhold Kreutz, director of the Charité Institute of Clinical Pharmacology and Toxicology, is also pleased with the decision. As a pharmacologist, he was particularly interested in potential applications. The discovery of Kaelin, Semenza and Ratcliffe has already led to the development of soon-to-be-approved drugs. Among them are anti-anemia pills, which can, among other things, help people with chronic kidney disease.
The Berlin University Alliance as an opportunity
The discovery could also play a role in treating age-related macular degeneration, leading to blindness in many people. Michael Foerster, chief ophthalmologist and board member of the Berlin Medical Society, notes this. As the joint and retina are regulated by oxygen, new therapeutic options may arise here.
Detlev Ganten, president of the International Conference "World Health Summit" and founder of Max Delbrück's Berlin Center for Molecular Medicine, is pleased with the "great price". The study of molecular mechanisms has far-reaching consequences. Oxygen is needed in every cell, so the discovery concerns all organs. Basic research like this "is the cure for the future," Ganten says. "We need medical research that focuses on health, not disease."
Although Emmanuelle Charpentier did not win the Nobel Prize in Berlin this time, Ganten is in a good mood when it comes to science in the capital. He sees the Berlin University Alliance, which combines university medicine with three major universities, as an opportunity for broad, interdisciplinary research. But the hope of a Nobel Prize for Charpentier is not the end. A chemistry award will be announced on Wednesday – and here a scientist has a chance.