Creation of gene targeting earns Smithies March of Dimes honor

05/11/05

CHAPEL HILL--For developing an indispensable tool for genetic disease research, two scientists have been named co-recipients of this year's March of Dimes Prize in Developmental Biology, to be awarded Monday (May 16) in Washington, D.C.

Drs. Oliver Smithies, Excellence Professor of pathology and laboratory medicine at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine, and Mario R. Capecchi, Distinguished Professor of human genetics at the University of Utah, are being honored for developing gene targeting.

Their technique gives scientists around the world the ability to alter particular genes in cultured cells and transfer those targeted genes to laboratory mice. Gene targeting thus allows them 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 organization created the honor as a tribute to Dr. Jonas Salk shortly before his death in 1995.

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

Also on Monday (May 16), Smithies and Capecchi will deliver the 10th annual March of Dimes Prize Lectures at the Washington Convention Center during the annual meeting of the Pediatric Academic Societies.

Source: Eurekalert & others

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