News Release

Monday, October 2, 2006

NIH Grantees Win 2006 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for Discovering Powerful Gene Silencer

Press Statement from NIH Director Elias A. Zerhouni, M.D.

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 ideas.

“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 other diseases.”

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