October 4, 2006

Nobel Prize

Earlier this week, the 2006 Nobel Prize in medicine was awarded to Andrew Fire of Stanford University and Craig Mello at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester, for groundbreaking discovery in silencing genes. Called RNA interference, it occurs in plants, animals and people and is important for regulating gene activity and helping defend against viruses. In RNA interference, certain molecules trigger the destruction or inactivation of the messenger RNA from a particular gene, so that no protein is produced. Thus the gene is effectively silenced.

Amazing that the prize has been awarded to researchers just 8-9 years after their discovery!

But it's appropriate, said Bruce Stillman, president of the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in Cold Spring Harbor, N.Y., because the work ''is recognized now as one of the really revolutionary changes in the way we think about how genes are controlled.''

Apparently, this discovery has spawned a niche biotechnology industry almost immediately after its discovery in 1997. And earlier this week, I also read about a related research study

Scientists stop colon cancer growth in mice by blocking just one enzyme
Texas researchers have discovered what may become a potent new weapon in the fight against colon cancer. In cell culture experiments, scientists from the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston (UTMB) and the University of Texas at Arlington determined that stopping the activity of a single enzyme called aldose reductase could shut down the toxic network of biochemical signals that promotes inflammation and colon cancer cell growth.
And today the Nobel Prize for Chemistry is awarded to Roger Kornberg, the son of a Nobel laureate, for describing gene copying in cells, which can give insight into illnesses such as cancer and heart disease. The process of gene copying, known as "genetic transcription" is central to life.
"If transcription stops, genetic information is no longer transferred into the
different parts of the body. Since these are then no longer renewed, the
organism dies within a few days," the Academy said. Disturbances in
transcription contribute to many human illnesses, such as cancer, heart disease
and various kinds of inflammation, it added. Poisonous toadstools kill by
interrupting the process. Understanding transcription is also important for the
development of various therapeutic applications of stem cells, the Academy said.
Kornberg was the first to create pictures showing transcription in action. His
depictions were so detailed that separate atoms could be distinguished.

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