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Nobel Laureate William G. Kaelin Jr. Speaks at SNU

  • November 20, 2019
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On November 8, the Department of Biological Sciences hosted a lecture and question-and-answer session with Dr. William Kaelin Jr., recipient of the 2019 Nobel Prize in Medicine. Dr. Kaelin, a professor at Harvard University and a researcher at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, has spent his academic career unravelling the mechanisms of tumor suppression by studying how cells sense and adapt under varying oxygen concentrations.

In his seminal paper published in Science in 2001, Dr. Kaelin and his team of researchers conclusively linked von Hippel-Lindau’s (VHL) disease, a genetic disease that dramatically increases the risk of certain cancers, to Hypoxia Inducible Factor (HIF)-1α, a master regulator of cellular and developmental responses to hypoxic conditions. His research has opened the way for early treatment of cancers that are notoriously difficult to treat when detected too late, such as kidney cancer and pancreatic cancer.

Dr. William Kaelin at the College of Natural Sciences, Courtesy of Public Relations team, SNU
Dr. William Kaelin at the College of Natural Sciences, Courtesy of Public Relations team, SNU

In his lecture, Dr. Kaelin shed insight on his current focus of research, which includes various tumor suppressors, such as the retinoblastoma protein, the VHL protein, and p73, a p53 homolog, as well as several different collaborative projects with pharmaceutical industry leaders to develop anemia, ischemic and cancer drugs.

When asked about what makes a good experiment during the question-and-answer session, Dr. Kaelin quipped that experiments should be “pretty and witty.” He also emphasized the value of critical thinking, saying that “learning how to think clearly and critically never gets old.”

Reflecting on his decades of experience in the field, Dr. Kaelin jokingly remarked that, “If I had known conquering cancer was this difficult, I probably wouldn’t have set out to do it.” Still, he remains optimistic about the future of cancer medicine: “Is cancer curable? I think so. But it’s going to be your generation that does it.”

Dr. William Kaelin at the College of Natural Sciences, Courtesy of Public Relations team, SNU
Dr. William Kaelin at the College of Natural Sciences, Courtesy of Public Relations team, SNU

Written by Cheesue Kim, SNU English Editor, cheesuerocket@gmail.com
Reviewed by Professor Travis Smith, Department of Asian Languages and Civilizations, tlsmith@snu.ac.kr

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