More on RNA Interference

Last year, at her investiture ceremony as the Gladys Smith Martin Professor of Medicine at the University of Massachusettes Medical Center, my sister (and fellow 3QD editor) Azra introduced me to her friend and colleague Craig C. Mello. I spoke with him about his RNAi work then, so it was with great excitement and pleasure that I read the news yesterday that for this work, along with Andrew Z. Fire, he has won this year’s Nobel prize in Medicine. All of us at 3QD send Drs. Mello and Fire our warmest congratulations. UMass Worcester rocks!

Nicholas Wade in the New York Times:

Nobel_2This year’s Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine has been awarded to two American researchers, Andrew Z. Fire and Craig C. Mello, for a far-reaching discovery about how genes are controlled within living cells.

The discovery was made in 1998, only eight years ago. It has been recognized with unusual speed by the Nobel Foundation in Stockholm, which sometimes lets decades elapse before awarding its accolade. The foundation’s caution, born of the fear of giving immediate recognition to research that may prove unfounded, may have been dispelled this year by the evident promise of the new field, several scientists said.

The finding by Drs. Fire and Mello made sense of a series of puzzling results obtained mostly by plant biologists, including some who were trying to change the color of petunias. By clarifying what was happening, they discovered an unexpected system of gene regulation in living cells and began an explosive phase of research in a field known variously as RNA interference or gene silencing.

This natural method of switching genes off has turned out to be a superb research tool, allowing scientists to understand the role of new genes by suppressing them. The method may also lead to a new class of drugs that switch off unwanted processes in disease. Two gene-silencing drugs designed to treat macular degeneration are already in clinical trials.

More here.  And you can read more and watch a 15 minute Nova program about RNAi here.