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UI pathology professor’s Nobel connection

Date: Thursday, October 17, 2019

Bing-Hua Jiang participated in early research that led to this year’s Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine

Bing-Hua JiangA Nobel Prize in science honors the critical contributions and achievements of up to three individual scientists. But over the years, hundreds of researchers will have had a hand in supporting and advancing these fundamentally important and award-winning discoveries.

To have played a role in the research that ultimately leads to a Nobel Prize is a thrilling feeling.

“It is very exciting to see this research recognized by the scientific community,” says Bing-Hua Jiang, PhD, UI professor of pathology and Endowed Chair in Cancer Research.

Jiang has good reason to feel that excitement; he was involved in the early work on hypoxia-inducible factor 1a (HIF-1a) in the lab of Gregg L. Semenza, MD, PhD, professor of genetic medicine at Johns Hopkins University and one of the winners of the 2019 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. 

Semenza, together with William G. Kaelin Jr., at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Brigham & Women’s Hospital Harvard Medical School, and Sir Peter J. Ratcliffe, at University of Oxford and the Francis Crick Institute, London, won the Nobel “for their discoveries of how cells sense and adapt to oxygen availability.”

Semenza’s work investigating how cells respond to low levels of oxygen led to the discovery and characterization of hypoxia-inducible factor 1 (HIF-1), a protein complex that controls the transcription of certain genes in an oxygen-dependent manner.

Jiang, who was a postdoctoral research associate in Semenza’s lab at Johns Hopkins from 1994 to 1997, originally cloned the hypoxia-inducible factor 1a (HIF-1a) gene and identified different functional domains of HIF-1a important for regulating HIF-1 transcriptional activation activity. He also identified many direct targets of HIF-1, including VEGF and heme oxygenase-1. Jiang is an author on the 1995 Proc Natl Acad Sci USA paper, which was cited by the Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Institutet as a key publication.

“We knew this was an important protein in response to oxygen when we were first working on it, but as the research has evolved it has been really exciting to see how important it is in regulating so many biological processes,” says Jiang, who also is a member of Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center at the UI.

Jiang’s current research focuses on cancer signaling pathways and how cancers develop resistance to various forms of treatment. By understanding the cellular mechanisms of chemoresistance and radioresistance in ovarian, lung, and breast cancer, Jiang and his team hope to discover new ways to overcome therapeutic resistance and improve cancer therapies.

“My goal is always to work with others to make contributions to science that will ultimately help people live longer, healthier lives,” he says.