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Nobel Prize Winner for Medicine Details Gene Modification Work

This year's Nobel Prize in medicine was awarded Monday to a trio of scientists who modify genes in mice. One of the recipients, Mario Capecchi, professor of biology and human genetics at the University of Utah, discusses his award-winning work.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And now, the Nobel Prize in Medicine for pioneering work in the field of genetics. Gwen Ifill has the story.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    This year's prize was awarded to a trio of scientists for modifying genes in mice and creating better animal models for understanding human disease. The Nobel Committee said the scientists' work is "being applied to virtually all areas of biomedicine."

    Mario Capecchi is one of the winners. He joins us tonight from the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, where he is a professor of biology and human genetics.

    First of all, Professor Capecchi, congratulations.

    MARIO CAPECCHI, Winner, Nobel Prize in Medicine: Good evening. Thank you.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    So the best successful description I heard of your work today described it as you're creating designer mice. Is that accurate?

  • MARIO CAPECCHI:

    That is accurate. What we can do is to change the DNA, the composition of the genes, in any way that one can conceive of, for example, inactivate a particular gene, and then look at the effects of that inactivation on the mouse, and thereby infer the function of those genes.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    And when you say "inactivation," is that like a scientific process of elimination?

  • MARIO CAPECCHI:

    For example, a gene is made up of four letters. It's the sequence of four letters. Instead of using 26 letters, it's written in a language of four letters. And one thing we can do is simply delete out that text and then say, what happens to that mouse?

  • GWEN IFILL:

    And in the case of the mice that you are looking at here, there's no limit — the desire or the good thing that you get out of this is that there's no limit on the uses of this kind of manipulated genetic material.

  • MARIO CAPECCHI:

    That's correct. I mean, one use, for example, is to model different genetic diseases. An example would be cancer. Make a mouse modeled with a particular cancer, use the mouse to study that cancer, and then, once we understand it, then use it also to develop therapies.

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