“How is it that I came to be in this rather fortunate position” were the opening words by Sir Peter Ratcliffe, winner of this year’s Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. The speech was part of a celebration hosted at the MRC WIMM on Monday the 21st of October, the anniversary of Alfred Nobel’s birth.
Attended by over 300 people, the party was an opportunity to celebrate Sir Peter Ratcliffe’s achievements, not only scientific but also his efforts to support and foster the scientific and medical community in Oxford. Sir John Bell, Regius Professor of Medicine at the University of Oxford, thanked Sir Peter for his contributions over the years to the Medical School, the MRC WIMM and the Nuffield Department of Medicine, and lauded him as a “real clinician scientist”. These sentiments were echoed by Prof Richard Cornall, Head of the Nuffield Department of Medicine, a position previously occupied by Sir Peter.
Our Director Prof Doug Higgs summarised the main contributions by the Ratcliffe group to the understanding of oxygen sensing and regulation, and recalled the early days of the research at the MRC WIMM. Sir Peter first established his research group in our institute in 1989, but his initial plan had been to become a consultant nephrologist. After an ill-fated trip to Wales led him to turn down a position as a consultant physician in Cardiff, our institute’s founder, the late Sir David Weatherall, suggested that he applied for a grant from the Wellcome Trust. Sir Peter acknowledged the importance of the continued support by the Trust in the last 30 years, as well as the many friends and colleagues who contributed to his research over the years.
Vital to this exchange of ideas was the MRC WIMM coffee room. Sir Peter fondly recalled the time spent in its “perfect” armchairs- “ it was in those armchairs that we discussed endlessly what we might do to solve this oxygen sensing problem”. He recalled the contribution of all of those who brought new techniques to the institute, and hence contributed technically or intellectually to the work. The coffee room has always been a vital feature of our institute, and something that our founder Sir David Weatherall, fought hard to maintain under space pressures to make more lab space available. Sir David was fondly remembered at the event, and this Nobel prize is a symbol of his legacy fostering an environment where basic, curiosity-driven science could lead to breakthroughs in clinical medicine. “I wish David was here, he would have been enormously proud” said Prof Doug Higgs
“It was here that it was all hatched”- said Sir Peter Ractliffe- “ and it is a really great pleasure to be here again”