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Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Former UW prof. awarded Nobel Prize

The Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Institutet named former UW-Madison professor of genetics, Oliver Smithies, a co-recipient of the 2007 Nobel Prize in Medicine Monday.  


Smithies, along with Mario R. Capecchi of the University of Utah and Martin J. Evans of the United Kingdom, received the Nobel Prize for their discoveries of principles for introducing specific gene modifications in mice by the use of embryonic stem cells,"" according to a statement from the Nobel Assembly. 


Smithies was a professor at UW-Madison from 1960-1988, when he left for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where he is currently the Excellence Professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine. 


While at UW-Madison, Smithies helped develop a technique to introduce DNA material in cells, according to a UNC-Chapel Hill statement. 


""[Smithies] thought that genetic disorders could be treated by correcting mutations in bone marrow cells, or stem cells,"" according to UNC-Chapel Hill.  


""This 'gene targeting' led to the creation of transgenic mice, or 'designer mice,' that replicated human disease."" 


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UW-Madison professor of genetics, Frederick Blattner, named his professorship in honor of Smithies. He said Smithies' technology of mice has been a key factor in understanding the functions of many genes. 


""Everyday people are making what they call 'knock-out mice,' where they modify a particular gene, look at the impact it has on the mouse genotype and understand the function of the gene that way,"" Blattner said. 


""Gene targeting in mice has pervaded all fields of biomedicine,"" according to the Nobel Assembly. ""Its impact on the understanding of gene function and its benefits to mankind will continue to increase over many years to come."" 


James Crow, a UW-Madison professor emeritus of genetics, said he helped recruit Smithies to UW-Madison. Crow said he had been impressed by Smithies previous work, including his discovery of starch gel electrophoresis, a standard technique in biological research today. 


""All of the time he was in Madison, [Smithies] was interested in finding ways of studying, either removing or inserting, a single gene and that's what he's done that's made him so recently get the Nobel Prize,"" Crow said. 


Neither Crow nor Blattner said they were surprised by Smithies receiving the Nobel Prize. 


""I thought it was rather likely that [Smithies would receive the prize], and I've been expecting it for several years, but I'm very happy about it,"" Crow said. ""He was a close personal friend and I was very sorry when he left Madison."" 


Blattner said he had been wondering for many years why Smithies had not won the award sooner. 


""[Smithies] is one of the best friends and best people that I have ever met,"" Blattner said.  


""He is such a precise and inspiring scientist. He served as a great teacher for a lot of people, myself included, and is also a great human being. He enjoyed the company of all of his students, and I just think it's wonderful that he got the prize.

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