Two pioneers in genetic research win $250,000 March of Dimes prize

05/13/05

Powerful DNA technology allows creation of models of human disease

WASHINGTON, MAY 16, 2005 -- For developing an indispensable tool for today's genetic disease research, two prominent scientists have been named co-recipients of the tenth anniversary March of Dimes Prize in Developmental Biology.

Mario R. Capecchi, Ph.D., Distinguished Professor and Co-Chairman of the Department of Human Genetics, University of Utah School of Medicine, and Oliver Smithies, D.Phil., Excellence Professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, are being honored for developing gene targeting -- the ability to alter particular genes in cultured cells and transfer the targeted genes to laboratory mice.

Gene targeting allows researchers to design and produce "knockout" lab mice to study how the disabled gene works. The same technology also makes it possible to change the function of a gene ("knock in") or restore the function of a disabled gene. Because humans share the vast majority of their genes with mice, gene-targeted mice are used to reproduce diseases that occur in humans.

The March of Dimes Prize is a cash award of $250,000 and a silver medal in the design of the Roosevelt dime, in honor of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who founded the March of Dimes.

"Before gene targeting, researchers could not pinpoint how a specific gene worked, which was very frustrating," said Dr. Jennifer L. Howse, president of the March of Dimes. "Dr. Capecchi and Dr. Smithies, working independently, made a technological breakthrough that completely revolutionized biomedical research and our ability to study human disease and development. We're reaping the benefits every day with advances in genetic medicine."

Gene targeting is now practiced routinely by thousands of scientists all over the world, enabling them to address the most complex and critical biological problems, including the causes and treatment of birth defects and many other disorders, such as cancer, diabetes, and atherosclerosis.

The March of Dimes Prize in Developmental Biology has been awarded annually since 1996 to investigators whose research has profoundly advanced the science that underlies the understanding of birth defects. The March of Dimes created the Prize as a tribute to Dr. Jonas Salk shortly before his death in 1995.

The 2005 March of Dimes Prize will be awarded to Dr. Capecchi and Dr. Smithies at a black tie dinner and ceremony tonight at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History in Washington, DC. Anna Eleanor Roosevelt, granddaughter of President Roosevelt and a member of the March of Dimes National Board of Trustees, will host the ceremony.

Dr. Capecchi and Dr. Smithies also will deliver the tenth annual March of Dimes Prize Lectures on May 16 at the Washington Convention Center during the 2005 Annual Meeting of the Pediatric Academic Societies.

The March of Dimes is a national voluntary health agency whose mission is to improve the health of babies by preventing birth defects and infant mortality. Founded in 1938, the March of Dimes funds programs of research, community services, education, and advocacy to save babies and in 2003 launched a five-year campaign to address the increasing rate of premature birth.

For more information, visit the March of Dimes Web site at marchofdimes.com or its Spanish language Web site at: http://www.nacersano.org.

Source: Eurekalert & others

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