HealthLawProf Blog

Editor: Katharine Van Tassel
Creighton University School of Law

Monday, October 2, 2006

Two Americans Receive Nobel Prize for Medicine

Congratulations to Americans Andrew Fire and Craig Mello who were awarded the Nobel Prize in  medicine for their discovery of a way "to turn off the effect of specific genes, opening a new avenue for disease treatment."  CNN reports,

"RNA interference" is already being widely used in basic science as a method to study the function of genes and it is being studied as a treatment for infections such as the AIDS and hepatitis viruses and for other conditions, including heart disease and cancer.

Fire, 47, of Stanford University, and Mello, of the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester, published their seminal work in 1998.

RNA interference occurs naturally in plants, animals, and humans. The Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, which awarded the prize, said it is important for regulating the activity of genes and helps defend against viral infection.

"This year's Nobel laureates have discovered a fundamental mechanism for controlling the flow of genetic information," the institute said.

Erna Moller, a member of the Nobel committee, said their research helped shed new light on a complicated process that had confused researchers for years.

"It was like opening the blinds in the morning," she said. "Suddenly you can see everything clearly."

Genes produce their effect by sending molecules called messenger RNA to the protein-making machinery of a cell. In RNA interference, certain molecules trigger the destruction of RNA from a particular gene, so that no protein is produced. Thus the gene is effectively silenced.

For instance, a gene causing high blood cholesterol levels was recently shown to be silenced in animals through RNA interference.. . . . .

Last year's medicine prize went to Australians Barry J. Marshall and Robin Warren for discovering that bacteria, not stress, causes ulcers.

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