Below are some excerpts from an Associated Press story on this year’s winners of the Nobel Prize in medicine. This is particularly pertinent because Oklahoma researchers are using some of the same techniques on tiny roundworms.
Mario R. Capecchi, Oliver Smithies and Sir Martin J. Evans won for their groundbreaking discoveries that led to “gene targeting.”
“The process has helped scientists develop models on mice of human disorders including cardiovascular and neurodegenerative ailments, diabetes and cancer. … Gene targeting is often used to inactivate single genes. Such gene “knockout” experiments have elucidated the roles of numerous genes in embryonic development, adult physiology, aging and disease. To date, more than 10,000 mouse genes (approximately half of the genes in the mammalian genome) have been knocked out. … With gene targeting it is now possible to produce almost any type of DNA modification in the mouse genome, allowing scientists to establish the roles of individual genes in health and disease,” according to the prize citation.
Research on C. elegans, the worm used in The C. elegans Knockout Consortium at the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation, has won several Nobel Prizes, but this year’s is the first for gene targeting. The OMRF knockout project creates genetically modified worms on a production-line scale and is a crucial link between scientists’ curiosities and ability to test their ideas on a “model organism.” This year’s Nobel Prize for medicine went to scientists who pioneered the method in mice.
Mice are more complicated — both good and bad, from a research perspective — but that doesn’t detract from the importance of the technology this year’s winners developed and its diffusion to Oklahoma and elsewhere.
Any time my eyes glaze over when I hear about/read about research, I think about what it is scientists are able to do in the lab and how global research powerhouses no longer have a monopoly on talent and technology.
Jeff Raymond, Medical Writer