Science

UNC Reseacher Shares Nobel Prize in Medicine

Posted October 8, 2007

— U.S. citizens Mario R. Capecchi and Oliver Smithies and Briton Sir Martin J. Evans won the 2007 Nobel Prize in medicine on Monday for groundbreaking discoveries that led to a technique for manipulating mouse genes.

The widely used process has helped scientists use mice to study heart disease, diabetes, cancer, cystic fibrosis and other diseases.

Capecchi, 70, who was born in Italy, is at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. Smithies, 82, born in Britain, has been at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill since 1988. Evans is at Cardiff University in England.

They were honored for a technique called gene targeting, which lets scientists inactivate or modify particular genes in mice. That in turn lets them study how those genes affect health and disease.

Smithies, a member of the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, pioneered gene targeting to create mice with specific genetic mutations that can mimic human genetic illnesses. He won the 2001 Albert Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research, often called the “America’s Nobel," and is a member of the National Institute of Medicine.

He called the award "very gratifying," saying it's "rather enjoyable being recognized at this level" after working on the research for more than 20 years. He said he hopes winning the Nobel Prize will make it easier to secure funding for other work.

Speaking early Monday, Smithies said he had no immediate plans to celebrate the award.

"I'm still feeling sleepy," he said.

“Oliver Smithies’ innovations have revolutionized genetic research and advanced the effective treatment of many diseases, and millions of people worldwide have better and longer lives because of the talent and determination he has brought to his work,” said UNC Chancellor James Moeser in a statement issued by the university. “We are honored to have him as an anchor for the UNC community and grateful that his many contributions have been recognized with a Nobel Prize.”

The first mice with genes manipulated in this way were announced in 1989. More than 10,000 different genes in mice have been studied in this way, the Nobel committee said. That's about half the genes the rodents have.

"Gene targeting has pervaded all fields of biomedicine. Its impact on the understanding of gene function and its benefits to mankind will continue to increase over many years to come," the award citation said.

Capecchi's work has uncovered the roles of genes involved in organ development in mammals, the committee said. Evans has developed strains of gene-altered mice to study cystic fibrosis, and Smithies has created strains to study such conditions as high blood pressure and heart disease.

The medicine prize was the first of the six prestigious awards to be announced this year. The others are chemistry, physics, literature, peace and economics.

The prizes are handed out every year on December 10, the anniversary of award founder Alfred Nobel's death in 1896.

Last year, the Nobel Prize in medicine went to Americans Andrew Z. Fire and Craig C. Mello for discovering RNA interference, a process that can silence specific genes.

12 Comments

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  • haggis basher Oct 8, 2007

    "That is a great honor for a guy going strong into his 80s when most people are either passed away or in the retirement home."

    Most Nobel prizes in Science go to pretty old folks as it usually takes many years for the full impact of their work to be recognised. I assume he still enjoys his work!

  • newtodurham Oct 8, 2007

    Congrats to a beautiful mind. Yet another reason why UNC Chapel Hill is one of the premier Universities in the Nation!

  • HockeyRules Oct 8, 2007

    "WOW! A smart person in the People's Republic of Chapel Hill. That is rare."

    May the rewards of his research never benefit you, Now.

  • Gnathostomata Oct 8, 2007

    Congratulations! May your telomeres never wear out!

  • now Oct 8, 2007

    WOW! A smart person in the People's Republic of Chapel Hill. That is rare.

  • peacebee Oct 8, 2007

    How wonderful and exciting that they were awarded! Their research is monumental, to say the least. While I am not a scientist (at least very far from their level), I find the study of genetics, the human genome, DNA, all intriguing. A good "put it in everyday language" author is Francis Collins, who was head of the genome project a few years back. Another really interesting series of books is put forth by Gregg Braden, who with his medical expertise ties in alot of the genetics research work with elements of faith.

  • BigUNCFan Oct 8, 2007

    That is a great honor for a guy going strong into his 80s when most people are either passed away or in the retirement home.

    Amazing longevity.

  • ERRN Oct 8, 2007

    Smarty pants.

  • fbell Oct 8, 2007

    THIS IS WONDERFUL FOR HIM, UN-CH AND NORTH CAROLINA. IT SHOWS THAT THE FUNDING OUR LEGISLATURE IS PUTTING INTO FUNDING CANCER RESEARCH , AND THE GOAL TO MAKE NORTH CAROLINA A CENTER FOR CANCER RESEARCH IS AND WILL PAY OFF FOR HUMANITY.

    NC VIKING

  • rah-rah-rita Oct 8, 2007

    Kudos and well deserved!

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