Monday, October 02, 2006

American Nobels Give Future Hope

I can't imagine what it must feel like to win a Nobel Prize for anything. Over the years, many Americans from John Nash to William Faulkner have taken home the prize in any number of categories. And the reaction is always different. But beyond the reaction, is the hope for the future that some Nobel winners may offer. Among them are the two winners in medicine this year from the United States.
I'm pretty sure that when Andrew Fire and Craig Mello were freshmen in college, they maybe only dreamed of one day doing something to win a Nobel Prize. The two winners are responsible for the discovery of "RNA interference," which is defined to be, "a powerful way to turn off the effect of specific genes, opening a new avenue for disease treatment." This process works to interrupt the mechanisms in cells that produce protein. Protein is one of the most essential substances in cells. The function of DNA is to send messages out to produce certain proteins. The problem is that not every gene on the DNA produces a helpful protein. In people that have certain diseases, their genetics is part of the problem. Fire and Mello discovered that sometimes, "certain molecules trigger the destruction of RNA from a particular gene, so that no protein is produced. Thus the gene is effectively silenced." The applications of this procedure are many.
By interrupting the production of proteins from "bad genes" this process could help cure certain diseases. At the moment, the process is widely used in the study for treating "AIDS and hepatitis viruses and for other conditions, including heart disease and cancer." That, to me, is an amazing feat. It opens the door to many more possibilities in the future. Both Fire and Mello are very deserving of this award. But as honored as they were, the two could not help being humble. Fire was noted as saying about receiving the award, "Science is a group effort. Please recognize that the recent progress in the field of RNA-based gene silencing has involved original scientific inquiry from research groups around the world." With scientists like this on the job, how can we not have just a little hope in the future.

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