UMass Medical School Professor Wins Nobel Prize
Dr. Craig Mello and colleague Dr. Andrew Fire of Stanford honored for 1998 discovery of RNAi
In 1998, Drs. Mello and Fire, then of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, published research findings in Nature that demonstrated that a particular form of ribonucleic acid or RNA-the cellular material responsible for the transmission of genetic information-can silence targeted genes. This RNAi process offers astounding potential for understanding and manipulating the cellular basis of human disease, and RNAi is now the state-of-the-art method by which scientists can "knock out" the expression of specific genes to thus define the biological functions of those genes. Just as important has been the finding that RNAi is a normal process of genetic regulation that takes place during development, opening a new window on developmental gene regulation.
Since Drs. Mello and Fire's seminal publication describing their breakthrough, RNAi has swept through laboratories around the world, changing the way many biomedical researchers work. Outside UMMS laboratories, companies at the forefront of pharmaceutical innovation have purchased licenses to RNAi technology, co-owned by UMMS and the Carnegie Institution, to aid in their development of treatments for disease. Currently, licenses have been issued to companies including Novartis AG, Bristol-Myers Squibb, CytRX Corp., Sirna Therapeutics, Monsanto Co., GlaxoSmithKline and Pfizer. At UMMS, researchers are taking full advantage of RNAi technology to speed investigation into a variety of diseases such as diabetes, cancer, ALS and HIV/AIDS.
Drs. Mello and Fire, who were elected to the National Academy of Sciences in May 2005, were co-recipients of the organization's distinguished Award in Molecular Biology in 2003 and the Wiley Prize in the Biomedical Sciences from Rockefeller University that same year. Their RNAi finding was named the 2002 "Breakthrough of the Year" by Science magazine and, remarkably, was also on Science's list of the top 10 scientific advances in 2003.
Also in 2005, the pair received Brandeis University's Lewis S. Rosenstiel Award for Distinguished Work in Medical Research, the Canadian government's Gairdner International Award and the Massry Prize. In 2006, they were awarded the prestigious Paul Ehrlich and Ludwig Darmstaedter Prize. Most recently, Dr. Mello was named the inaugural recipient of The Dr. Paul Janssen Award for Biomedical Research by Johnson & Johnson.
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