Press Statement from NIH Director Elias A. Zerhouni, M.D.
NIH Grantees Win 2006 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for Discovering Powerful Gene Silencer
The 2006 Nobel Prize
in physiology or medicine is shared by two long-time NIH grantees, Andrew Z.
Fire, Ph.D., of the Stanford University School of Medicine and Craig C. Mello,
Ph.D., of the University of Massachusetts Medical School. The two researchers
are honored for their discovery of RNA interference, a mechanism for silencing
genes that could lead to new disease treatments.
The NIH’s National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) began
supporting the work of Fire in 1987 and Mello in 1999. Over the years, NIGMS
has provided nearly $8.5 million to support the two scientists. The NIH’s
National Institute of Child Health and Human Development has also provided
more than $3 million to support the research of Dr. Mello. The two scientists
published their findings in 1998. This demonstrates the importance of both
supporting new investigators and sustaining support of investigator-initiated
“Today’s Nobelists used experiments with nematode worms to find
a mechanism that can silence genes in humans. Many diseases develop when genes
don’t work properly, so RNA interference offers a tremendous potential
to create a new generation of drugs targeted to these and other conditions,” said
NIH Director Elias A. Zerhouni, M.D.
“This honor underscores the fundamental role that basic research plays
in advancing our understanding of health,” said Jeremy M. Berg, Ph.D.,
NIGMS director. “The unanticipated discovery of a basic biological process
that can silence genes took the biomedical research community by storm. RNAi
is both a powerful tool for studying gene function and a promising approach
to treating a host of human diseases, from macular degeneration and cancer
to flu and other infections.”
“This research documents the value of studying basic developmental processes
and their control,” said Duane Alexander M.D., Director of the National
Institute of Child Health and Human Development, which has funded Dr. Mello’s
work since 1996 and continues to provide support. “Discovery of this
basic mechanism will lead to the ability to control genetic-based and many
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