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The Daily Tar Heel

Professor Wins Prize For Genetics Work

Oliver Smithies, excellence professor of pathology, just added the 2002 Massry Prize to the list of awards garnered for his groundbreaking work with genes that affect human and animal health.

Last year Smithies won the Laskar Award for Basic Medical Research, which is likened to the Nobel Prize. He also has received two Gairdner awards, the CIBA Award of the American Heart Association and the International Okamoto Award from the Japan Vascular Disease Research Foundation.

Smithies pioneered gene targeting, a process that allows scientists to program in mice genetic mutations that model human diseases.

A statement from the Massry Foundation states that, "The creation of these mouse models ... forms the basis for rapid advances in diagnosis, treatment and cure of human disease."

The method, called homologous recombination, has allowed researchers to model and study genetic diseases such as cystic fibrosis, muscular dystrophy and cancer in hopes of finding a gene that causes them.

The Massry Prize is given by the Meira and Shaul G. Massry Foundation of Beverly Hills, Calif., and consists of a gold medal and $40,000. Smithies is sharing the award with University of Utah researcher Mario Capecchi.

Charles Jennette, chairman of the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, said the honor is not in the actual prize but in the prestige of the award.

"The monetary award is not that significant," Jennette said. "(The award) is a sign of the significance of what (Smithies) is doing."

Jennette said recognition through awards like Smithies' has contributed to the image of UNC as a top genetic research institution.

"It's good for the University, it's good for the medical school, and it's very good for the (pathology) department," he said.

Officials say the researchers' recognition helps draw support for UNC projects such as the recent addition of the Carolina Center for Genome Sciences, which focuses specifically on the emerging field of genetics.

The center was the focus of media attention in August 2001 after receiving $245 million in public and private backing.

The center is working closely with similar centers at Duke University and N.C. State University as part of the N.C. Genomics and Bioinformatics Consortium, which aims to bring together the specialties of each center.

Researchers at the UNC center are concentrating on genomics sciences and medicine.

Tony Waldrop, vice chancellor for research and development, said the award brings further international recognition to Smithies and elevates the status of the University by highlighting the caliber of its faculty.

Assistant University Editor Meredith Nicholson contributed to this article.
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