Long before human embryonic stem cells became the subject of national news stories or high-profile government policies, Oliver Smithies, D.Phil., helped to pioneer the use of mouse stem cells in biomedical research.
Smithies, now an excellence professor of pathology and laboratory medicine at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine, was working at the University of Wisconsin at Madison in the mid-1980s when he made his groundbreaking discovery. By replicating a natural process, he was able to selectively modify individual genes in laboratory cell cultures.
Soon after, Sir Martin Evans, working in the United Kingdom, discovered embryonic stem cells and showed that they could be used to introduce new genetic material in mice. By combining stem cells with the "gene targeting" process developed separately by Smithies in Wisconsin and Mario Capecchi at the University of Utah, researchers could create "designer mice" to study the impact of changes to a single gene. This breakthrough represented a watershed moment in the science of genetics and revolutionized the study of human disease.
It also earned Smithies, Capecchi and Evans the 2007 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.
A press release issued by The Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Institutet in Sweden to announce the award stated that gene targeting "is now being applied to virtually all areas of biomedicine-from basic research to the development of new therapies" and has "elucidated the roles of numerous genes in embryonic development, adult physiology, aging and disease…. Its impact on the understanding of gene function and its benefits to mankind will continue to increase over many years to come."
Gene targeting provides scientists with a precise and powerful tool for disease research by allowing them to create animal models of human disorders. To date, more than five hundred mouse models have advanced our understanding of conditions such as cardiovascular and neurodegenerative diseases, diabetes and cancer. Smithies' lab was the first to develop a mouse model of cystic fibrosis and also created models for conditions such as hypertension and atherosclerosis.
On Friday, July 10, Smithies will deliver the 2009 Earl H. Morris Endowed Lecture at Wright State University. His presentation, entitled "60 years as a bench scientist," will take place in Gandhi Auditorium in White Hall on the WSU campus and will begin at 10:30 a.m. The lecture, sponsored by the WSU Boonshoft School of Medicine Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology, is free and open to the public. Information on the lecture is available at med.wright.edu/pharm/lectures.html
The Earl H. Morris Endowed Lectureship was established by Herbert and Marion Morris to honor Herbert's father, Earl H. Morris, M.D. Dr. Earl Morris was born in Bellbrook, Ohio, received his M.D. from the University of Cincinnati Medical School and practiced family medicine in the Dayton area for more than 50 years. Mariana Morris, Ph.D., professor and chair of pharmacology and toxicology and assistant vice president for graduate programs with the medical school, noted that the endowed lecture series has brought some of the world's leading scientists and physicians to Wright State, a tribute to Earl Morris' lifelong dedication to the science of medicine.
Editor's note: For more information or to schedule an interview contact: Phillip Neal, Marketing and Communications, Wright State University Boonshoft School of Medicine, (937) 775-4587 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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