Switching off Harmful Genes
Americans Win Nobel Prize in Medicine
Excerpted from "2 Americans Win Nobel Prize in Medicine."
By Matt Moore and Karl Ritter. Associated Press.
October 2, 2006--Americans Andrew Z. Fire and Craig C. Mello won the Nobel Prize in medicine for discovering a powerful way to turn off the effect of specific genes, opening a potential new avenue for fighting diseases as diverse as cancer and AIDS. Fire, 47, of Stanford University, and Mello, 45, of the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester, published their seminal work in a 1998 paper.
The process, called RNA interference, also is being studied for treating such conditions as hepatitis virus infection and heart disease. It is already widely used in basic science as a method to study the function of genes. RNA interference occurs naturally in plants, animals and humans.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 or inactivation 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.
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." The Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, which awarded the $1.4 million prize, said it is important for regulating the activity of genes and helps defend against viral infection. Full Article
Christian Medical & Dental Association Ethics Commission Member David Pauls, MD: "The potential applications of this research are extensive. As time marches on, the complexity and wonder of molecular genetics continue to grow. This research holds much promise for treating a wide spectrum of disease. Ethically, there appear to be no significant concerns about this, although judgment is reserved until the specific applications of this knowledge are further known."
Labels: Biomedical Ethics