Senate honors U Nobel winner

The United States Senate passed a resolution honoring U professor Mario Capecchi for his Nobel Prize-winning research on genetically altered mice Thursday.

Utah Sens. Orrin Hatch and Bob Bennett sponsored the act to recognize Capecchi’s research on mice that have been genetically altered, enabling scientists to study diseases in detail.

“Our state has been fortunate to have a scientist of Dr. Capecchi’s caliber at the University of Utah for the last 35 years,” Hatch said in a statement.

In the past few years, Hatch has been a staunch supporter of Capecchi’s stem cell research. Despite his party’s opposition to stem cell research, Hatch continued to support work being done at the U.

“Hatch sees (the research) as critical to studying and curing life-threatening disease,” said Chris Nelson, a spokesman for the U’s health sciences program.

The resolution honored and recognized Capecchi, Oliver Smithies of the University of North Carolina and Martin Evans of the University of Cardiff for their similar research. The three men share the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine that was awarded earlier this month.

Capecchi’s development of “knockout mice” technology — the ability to alter specific genes in mice with embryonic stem cells — has allowed researchers to model hundreds of diseases such as cancer.

Research from “knockout” mice is continuing in laboratories throughout the world. The U has a number of labs making use of the ability to follow diseases as they progress and learning more about how to fight against them. Essentially, scientists can alter one part of the DNA in a “knockout” mouse and note the deformity that occurs, solving pieces of the DNA puzzle.

“The whole country is proud of him,” Nelson said. “He has such a compelling story. Being homeless on the streets of Italy really epitomizes that American dream of eventual success from hard work and determination.”

Capecchi was homeless and wandered around Italy from about age 4 to 9 while his mother was in a political prison camp. After being reunited with his mother, Capecchi moved to the United States where he graduated from Harvard University years later. He now holds a doctorate in biophysics.

“Through both his life and work, Dr. Capecchi has demonstrated that hard work and determination can produce world-class results, even in the face of overwhelming adversity,” Hatch said in the statement.

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Associated Press