Nobels: Medicine prize for gene knockout tools

October 8, 2007

My general predictions about Nobel Prizes are way off after the first announcement today.

The London Telegraph announced it:

The Nobel prize for medicine is shared today by Mario Capecchi, Martin Evans and Oliver Smithies for their work on stem cells and genetic manipulation that has had a profound impact, from basic medical research to the development of new treatments.

Although stem cells are one of the hottest fields in science today for their potential for growing replacement cells and tissue for a wide range of diseases, the prestigious 10 million Swedish crown (£750,000) prize recognised the international team’s work for genetically manipulating stem cells to find out what genes do in the body and to provide animal versions of human disease to help hone understanding and test new treatments.

Capecchi was born in Italy and is a US citizen. Both Evans and Smithies are British-born. Sir Martin is known for his pioneering work on stem cells in mice, while Capecci and Smithies showed how genes could be modified.

The Nobel Committee press release gives their formal identification and affiliations:

Mario R. Capecchi, born 1937 in Italy, US citizen, PhD in Biophysics 1967, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, USA. Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator and Distinguished Professor of Human Genetics and Biology at the University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT, USA.

Sir Martin J. Evans, born 1941 in Great Britain, British citizen, PhD in Anatomy and Embryology 1969, University College, London, UK. Director of the School of Biosciences and Professor of Mammalian Genetics, Cardiff University, UK.

Oliver Smithies, born 1925 in Great Britain, US citizen, PhD in Biochemistry 1951, Oxford University, UK. Excellence Professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, NC, USA.

My usual (and still standing) prediction is that most Nobel winners will be Americans, and educated in America’s public schools. Of the three announced today, one is Italian born (but a U.S. citizen now), and the other two are British.

Update: Turns out that Dr. Capecchi moved to the U.S. from Italy at the age of 9. Does anyone know where he went to elementary, junior high and high school?

Capecchi’s success belies his very difficult upbringing in war-torn Italy during World War II. At the age of four, he was separated from his mother, who was taken by the Gestapo to the Dachau concentration camp. For the next four-and-a half years, he lived on the streets, fending for himself by begging and stealing. The two reunited when Capecchi was nine, and they soon moved to the United States, where he began elementary school without knowing how to read or write or how to speak English.

More prizes to come.

Sources:


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