Kaelin won the prize along with American Gregg Semenza of Johns Hopkins University and Peter Ratcliffe of Oxford University for discovering a molecular switch that regulates how cells adapt to fluctuating oxygen levels, opening up new approaches to treating heart failure, anemia and cancer.
"Carolyn was about excellence and integrity and compassion in everything she did, so I try to hold myself to those very high standards, to try to conduct my work in the proper way," Kaelin said at a news conference in Boston, Massachusetts.
"I also think both through her career and just by walking through the waiting areas at Dana-Farber that there are people counting on us. It's not about frankly the awards and accolades, although they're wonderful when they come, but it's about trying to get to the truth, and to generate new knowledge, and have that knowledge hopefully help our patients."
Ratcliffe, who is also clinical research director at the Francis Crick Institute in London, said in a statement he was "honored and delighted at the news."
The scientists' work established the basis for understanding of how oxygen levels are sensed by cells - a discovery that is being explored by medical researchers seeking to develop treatments for various diseases that work by either activating or blocking the body's oxygen-sensing machinery.
Their work centers on the hypoxic response - the way the body reacts to oxygen flux - and "revealed the elegant mechanisms by which our cells sense oxygen levels and respond" said Andrew Murray, an expert at Britain's University of Cambridge who congratulated the three.