Gairdner Lecture looks at how a lack of oxygen affects development and disease

Dr. Gregg Semenza of the Johns Hopkins Institute for Cell Engineering will look at the importance of oxygen, the circulatory and respiratory systems, and how it all plays out in human development and disease when he delivers the 2010 Canada Gairdner Lecture at York.

The 2010 Canada Gairdner international award recipient, Semenza will present “Life with Oxygen” Wednesday, Oct. 27 at 1:30pm in the Senate Chamber, N940 Ross Building, Keele campus. University Professor Emeritus Ron Pearlman of York’s Department of Biology will host the event.

Right: Gregg Semenza

Semenza’s talk will look at how oxygen is used by the human body and what happens when there isn’t enough. The lungs present a large surface area for the capture of oxygen by red blood cells, which are pumped by the heart through blood vessels to all cells of the body, and used in the mitochondria to produce energy, says Semenza, who is the C. Michael Armstrong Professor at Johns Hopkins. He also holds appointments in pediatrics, medicine, oncology, radiation oncology, biological chemistry, and with the McKusick-Nathans Institute of Genetic Medicine.

The development and subsequent operation of the circulatory and respiratory systems are controlled by hypoxia-inducible factor 1 (HIF-1), which is a protein that is activated in response to reduced oxygen availability (hypoxia). It was Semenza’s laboratory that identified factor 1 (HIF-1).

The purification of HIF-1 and isolation of its coding sequences in 1995 opened the field of oxygen biology to molecular analysis. This has revealed major roles for HIF-1 in many developmental, physiological and pathological processes, including cardiovascular disease and cancer. HIF-1 activates the expression of genes that are required to increase oxygen delivery, for example, by stimulating the production of new blood vessels.

Semenza says, “I will discuss these important physiological and molecular regulatory pathways in the context of human physiology, development and disease.”

Left: Phillip Marsden

In a closed morning session at York with high school students, Semenza will deliver a talk, titled “Breathing Lessons”, with Dr. Phillip Marsden, co-chair of the Gairdner Medical Review Panel.

The Keenan Chair in Medical Research, Marsden is recognized as leading international expert in the field of cellular and molecular regulation of endothelial-derived vasomediator expression. In 2001, he was awarded the Kidney Foundation of Canada’s Medal for Research Excellence. Recently, he was elected to the American Society of Clinical Investigation and joined the editorial board of the New England Journal of Medicine.

The Gairdner Foundation recognizes the world’s leading medical research scientists through the Canada Gairdner International Awards, recognized as among the most prestigious awards in biomedical science.

For more information, visit the Gairdner Foundation website.