UMASS MEDICAL SCHOOL RESEARCHER CRAIG MELLO, PHD, RECEIVES 2005 MASSRY PRIZE 

October 7, 2005 

WORCESTER, Mass.- University of Massachusetts Medical School researcher  Craig C. Mello, PhD , who is the Blais University Chair in Molecular Medicine and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator, has received the 2005 Massry Prize for his pivotal role as the co-discoverer of RNA interference (RNAi). His colleague in the breakthrough, Andrew Z. Fire, PhD, of Stanford University School of Medicine also received the honor. Drs. Mello and Fire will share the award with David C. Baulcombe, PhD, of The Sainsbury Laboratory, John Innes Centre in Norwich, England, whose research in plants also contributed to the discovery of RNAi. Less than a decade after its discovery RNAi, or RNA mediated gene silencing, has already provided powerful tools to study gene function and promises to become the basis for RNA-based therapeutics to treat human disease.

"It is a tremendous honor to be recognized with my collaborator Dr. Andrew Fire and Dr. David Baulcombe with the Massry Prize," said Dr. Mello. "It is gratifying to see RNAi applied so broadly in labs around the globe. Our mission is to improve the quality of life through scientific research and my hope is that, with the continued support and recognition offered by organizations like the Massry Foundation, RNAi will continue to contribute to general scientific progress and, ultimately, to the understanding and treatment of disease."

Instituted in 1996 by the Meira and Shaul G. Massry Foundation of Beverly Hills, the Massry Prize honors scientists who have made a meritorious and extraordinary contribution to medicine, physiology and/or nephrology.  The prize is comprised of a monetary award and a Gold Medal and certificate and will be presented at a special ceremony at the Council Chamber of the City of Beverly Hills on December 3, 2005.  To date, there have been 14 Massry Prize Laureates. 

In their 1998 publication in the journal Nature, Mello and Fire demonstrated that a certain form of ribonucleic acid-or RNA, the cellular material responsible for the transmission of genetic information-had the unanticipated property of silencing the expression of a gene whose coding sequence of DNA was similar to that of the RNA they tested.  The RNAi mechanism-a natural response of an organism to double-stranded RNA, of which many viruses are comprised-destroys the gene products that a virus needs to replicate itself, essentially halting the progression of the invading viral infection.

RNAi is now the state-of-the-art method by which scientists can knock down the expression of specific genes in cells to thus define the biological functions of those genes.  Just as important, however, has been the finding that RNAi is a normal process of genetic regulation that takes place during development.  Thus, this phenomenon has provided not only a powerful research tool for experimentally knocking out the expression of specific genes, but also has opened a completely new and totally unanticipated window on developmental gene regulation.

The Meira and Shaul G. Massry Foundation is a non-profit, public foundation established by the family and friends of Dr. Shaul G. Massry.  Its objective is to promote education and support research in the field of kidney disease. Shaul G. Massry, M.D. is Professor Emeritus of Medicine, Physiology and Biophysics at the Keck School of Medicine, University of Southern California and served as Chief of its Division of Nephrology from 1974 to 2000.  He is internationally recognized for his research on kidney function and disease and most notably, for his work on uremic toxicity. 

The University of Massachusetts Medical School, one of the fastest growing academic health centers in the country, has built a reputation as a world-class research institution, consistently producing noteworthy advances in clinical and basic research.  The Medical School attracts more than $174 million in research funding annually, 80 percent of which comes from federal funding sources. UMMS is the academic partner of UMass Memorial Health Care, the largest health care provider in Central Massachusetts. For more information visit www.umassmed.edu .

Contact: Kelly Bishop, 508.856.2000, kelly.bishop@umassmed.edu