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May 14, 2000

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Johns Hopkins Pediatric Geneticist Receives National Award For Research

For landmark discoveries of how human cells respond to hypoxia, or a state of oxygen deprivation, Gregg L. Semenza, M.D., Ph.D., of the Johns Hopkins Children's Center and Johns Hopkins Institute of Genetic Medicine today receives the annual E. Mead Johnson Award, for pre-eminent contributions to American pediatrics. Semenza's work sheds light on basic molecular processes which, when they go awry, can lead to some of the most common causes of death in the United States, including heart disease and cancer.

Bestowed annually since 1939 by the Society for Pediatric Research, the E. Mead Johnson Award recognizes outstanding clinical and research accomplishments in pediatrics. Semenza received the award during the Pediatric Academic Societies & American Academy of Pediatrics 2000 Joint Meeting in Boston. Twenty-eight past recipients hail from Johns Hopkins including pediatric hematologist Frank A. Oski, M.D., former director of the Children's Center; Mary Ellen Avery, M.D., who discovered the vital role of pulmonary surfactant in newborn lung function; and Helen B. Taussig, M.D., co-developer of the famous "blue baby" operation to repair congenital heart defects in children.

In 1992, Semenza isolated hypoxia-inducible factor 1 (HIF-1), the protein that regulates oxygen levels in the body. Subsequent research revealed that HIF-1 helps cells adapt to reduced oxygen levels by activating several genes that control vital life processes such as metabolism and the formation of blood vessels and red blood cells. Other studies suggest that HIF-1 helps the most common human cancers (breast, colon, lung and prostate) develop nutrient-supplying blood vessels necessary for tumor growth. Semenza also has shown that HIF-1 plays a role in two serious newborn disorders: retinopathy of prematurity, which can lead to myopia, glaucoma, and detached retina; and pulmonary hypertension, which can be fatal.

Semenza, Professor of Pediatrics at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, also serves as Assistant Director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Craniofacial Development and Disorders. Semenza graduated magna cum laude with a bachelor's degree in biology from Harvard College, and received his medical doctorate and Ph.D. in genetics from the University of Pennsylvania. Following a pediatric internship and residency at Duke University Medical Center, Semenza pursued a postdoctoral fellowship in medical genetics at Hopkins, then joined the faculty as Assistant Professor of Pediatrics and Medicine in 1990.

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