• Researcher Profile

    William G. Kaelin Jr., MD

    William G. Kaelin Jr., MD
    Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School
    Investigator, Howard Hughes Medical Institute

    Office phone: 617-632-3975
    Fax: 617-632-4760
    Email: william_kaelin@dfci.harvard.edu
    Website: William Kaelin Laboratory

    Preferred contact method: email

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    Research Department

    Medical Oncology/Molecular and Cellular

    Area of Research

    Functions of Tumor Suppressor Proteins

    Dana-Farber Cancer Institute
    450 Brookline Avenue
    Mayer 457
    Boston, MA 02215


    Dr. Kaelin received his MD from Duke University in 1982 and was a house officer and chief resident in internal medicine at Johns Hopkins Hospital. He was a medical oncology clinical fellow at Dana-Farber and a postdoctoral fellow in the laboratory of Dr. David Livingston, where he began his studies of tumor suppressor proteins. He became an independent investigator at Dana-Farber in 1992, and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator and Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School in 2002.

    Recent Awards

    • Science of Oncology Award, ASCO, 2016
    • The Princess Takamatsu Award, AACR, 2016
    • AACR Academy, 2014
    • Steven C. Beering Award, 2014
    • Wiley Prize in Biomedical Sciences, 2014
    • Stanley J. Korsmeyer Award, ASCI, 2012
    • Scientific Grand Prix, Foundation Lefoulon-Delalande, 2012
    • Alfred Knudson Award in Cancer Genetics, NCI, 2011
    • Canada Gairdner International Award, 2010
    • Elected to National Academy of Sciences, 2010
    • AICR Colin Thomson Medal, 2008
    • Duke University School of Medicine Distinguished Alumni Award , 2007
    • Elected to Institute of Medicine, 2007
    • Doris Duke Distinguished Clinical Investigator Award, 2006
    • Richard and Hinda Rosenthal Foundation Award, AACR, 2006
    • Elected to Johns Hopkins Society of Scholars, 2003
    • Paul Marks Prize, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, 2001
    • James S. McDonnell Scholar Award, 1993
    • NIH National Research Service Award, 1990
    • NIH Physician-Scientist Award, 1990
    • Alpha Omega Alpha Medical Honor Society, 1983
    • Phi Beta Kappa, 1978


    Functions of Tumor Suppressor Proteins

    Our laboratory studies tumor suppressor genes and the normal functions of the proteins they encode. The long-term goal of this work is to lay the foundation for the development of new anticancer therapies based on the functions of specific tumor suppressor proteins. For example, it may be possible to develop a drug that mimics the behavior of a certain tumor suppressor protein, or to design strategies for killing only those cells in which a particular tumor suppressor protein has been inactivated, thus sparing normal cells.

    We are currently concentrating on the von Hippel-Lindau tumor suppressor protein (pVHL), the retinoblastoma tumor suppressor protein (pRB), and the p53-like protein p73. pVHL inactivation is common in several cancers including clear cell renal carcinoma. Our laboratory established that when oxygen is available, pVHL targets for destruction another protein called hypoxia-inducible factor (HIF). Cells lacking pVHL, or starved of oxygen, accumulate HIF, which activates a cadre of genes that facilitate adaptation to hypoxia. We showed that downregulation of HIF is both necessary and sufficient for pVHL to suppress the growth of renal carcinomas in experimental models. This work motivated clinical trials of agents that inhibit HIF-responsive growth factors such as vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF). At least one VEGF inhibitor will likely be approved for the treatment of renal carcinoma in 2005.

    Earlier work by our group showed that the binding of pVHL to HIF requires that HIF be hydroxylated on one of two proline residues. Preclinical data suggest that preventing this modification pharmacologically might be useful for the treatment of diseases characterized by impaired oxygen delivery, including myocardial infarctions and strokes.

    In other research, we are studying tuberous sclerosis, a hereditary cancer syndrome caused by mutations of either the TSC1 or TSC2 genes. We recently discovered that TSC1 and TSC2, like pVHL, regulate HIF; we also found that another protein, REDD1, plays an important role in adaptation to chronic hypoxia by modulating the function of TSC1 and TSC2.

    The best understood function of the pRB protein is its ability to inhibit the E2F transcription factor. We discovered that pRB interacts with another protein, RBP2, which also has features of a transcription factor. Importantly, we showed that inhibition of RBP2 in cells lacking pRB induces some of the same changes observed following restoration of pRB function, including the induction of differentiation. We are now studying the biochemistry of RBP2 in greater detail.

    Select Publications

    • Ivan M, Kondo K, Yang H, Kim W, Valiando J, Ohh M, Salic A, Asara JM, Lane WS, Kaelin WG Jr. HIFalpha targeted for VHL-mediated destruction by proline hydroxylation: implications for Osensing. Science 2001; 292:464-8. 
    • Klose RJ, Yan Q, Tothova Z, Yamane K, Erdjument-Bromage H, Tempst P, Gilliland DG, Zhang Y, Kaelin WG Jr. The retinoblastoma binding protein RBP2 is an H3K4 demethylase. Cell. 2007; 128:889-900
    • Bommi-Reddy A, Almeciga I, Sawyer J, Geisen C, Li W, Harlow E, Kaelin WG Jr, Grueneberg DA. Kinase requirements in human cells: III. Altered kinase requirements in VHL-/- cancer cells detected in a pilot synthetic lethal screen. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. 2008; 105(43):16484-9.
    • Schlisio S, Kenchappa RS, Vredeveld LC, George RE, Stewart R, Greulich H, Shahriari K, Nguyen NV, Pigny P, Dahia PL, Pomeroy SI, Maris JM, Look AT, Meyerson M, Peeper DS, Carter BD, Kaelin WG Jr. The kinesin KIF1Bbeta acts downstream from EglN3 to induce apoptosis and is a potential 1p36 tumor suppressor. Genes Dev. 2008; 22(7):884-93
    • Zhang  Q, Gu J, Li L, Liu J, Luo B, Cheung HW, Boehm JS, Ni M, Geisen C, Root DE, Polyak K, Brown M, Richardson AL, Hahn WC, Kaelin WG Jr, Bommi-Reddy A.  Control of cyclin D1 and breast tumorigenesis by the EgIN2 prolyl hydroxylase.  Cancer Cell. 2009 Nov 6;16(5):413-24.
    • Moslehi J, Minamishima YA, Shi J, Neuberg D, Charytan D, Padera R, Signoretti S, Liao R, and Kaelin WG.  Loss of HIF Prolyl Hydroxylase Activity in Cardiomyocytes Phenocopies Ischemic Cardiomyopathy. Circulation 2010 Sep 7;122(10):1004-16
    • Minimishima YA and Kaelin WG.  Reactivation of Hepatic EPO Synthesis in Mice After PHD Loss Science 2010 Jul 23;329(5990):407.
    • Shen C, Beroukhim R, Schumacher SE, Zhou J, Chang M. Signoretti S, Kaelin WG Jr.  Genetic and Functional Studies Implicate HIF1a as a 14q Kidney Cancer Suppressor Gene.  Cancer Discov. 2011 Aug; 1(3):222-35.
    • Lin W, Cao J, Liu J, Beshiri ML, Fujiwara Y, Francis J, Cherniack AD, Geisen C, Blair LP, Zou MR, Shen X, Kawamori D, Liu Z, Grisanzio C, Watanabe H, Minamishima YA, Zhang Q, Kulkarni RN, Signoretti S, Rodig SJ, Bronson RT, Orkin SH, Tuck DP, Benevolenskaya EV, Meyerson M, Kaelin WG Jr, Yan Q. Loss of the retinoblastoma binding protein 2 (RBP2) histone demethylase suppresses tumorigenesis in mice lacking Rb1 or Men1. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. 2011 Aug 16;108(33):13379-86.
    • Koivunen P, Lee S, Duncan CG, Lopez G, Lu G, Ramkissoon S, Losman J, Joensuu P, Bergmann U, Gross S, Travins J, Weiss S, Looper R, Ligon KL, Verhaak RGW, Yan H, Kaelin WG Jr.  Transformation by the R Enantiomer of 2-Hydroxyglutarate Linked to EgIN Activation.  Nature 2012 Feb 15;483(7390):484-8.


    • Briggs, Kimberly, PhD
    • Chakraborty, Abhishek, PhD
    • Frosch, Hyejin, PhD
    • Gao, Wenhua, PhD
    • Huang, Bofu, PhD
    • Koduri, Sagar, MD, PhD
    • Liberzon, Ella, PhD
    • McBrayer, Samuel, PhD
    • Olenchock, Benjamin, MD, PhD
    • Oser, Matthew, MD, PhD
    • Yu, Wenyu, PhD
    • Zhang, Cuiyan, PhD
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