May 3, 2005 

WORCESTER, Mass.- The National Academy of Sciences today announced that it has elected University of Massachusetts Medical School's Craig C. Mello, PhD, to its membership in recognition of his distinguished work in original research. Election to the Academy, which was established in 1863 by a congressional act of incorporation signed by Abraham Lincoln, is considered one of the highest honors that can be accorded a U.S. scientist or engineer. 

Mello was recognized by the Academy for his work in the discovery of RNA interference. In 1998, Mello and colleague Andrew Fire, PhD, now of Stanford University, published research findings in Nature demonstrating that a particular form of ribonucleic acid-RNA, the cellular material responsible for the transmission of genetic information-can silence targeted genes. 

This RNAi process offers astounding potential for understanding and manipulating the cellular basis of human disease, and RNAi is now the state-of-the-art method by which scientists can "knock down" the expression of specific genes to thus define the biological functions of those genes.  Just as important has been the finding that RNAi is a normal process of genetic regulation that takes place during development, opening a new window on developmental gene regulation.  

"It is exceptionally unusual for a young scientist to be nominated for membership in the Academy and elected so quickly," said Aaron Lazare, MD, Chancellor and Dean of UMMS. "But then, Craig Mello is an exceptional scientist whose work has had a profound impact onlaboratories worldwide, where the technology has greatly expanded scientific understanding of the mysteries of the human body in the quest to conquer disease." 

Since Drs. Mello and Fire's seminal publication describing their breakthrough, RNAi has swept through laboratories around the world, changing the way many biomedical researchers work. Outside UMMS laboratories, companies at the forefront of pharmaceutical innovation are using RNAi technology to aid in their development of treatments for disease. At UMMS, researchers are taking full advantage of RNAi technology to speed investigation into a variety of diseases such as diabetes, cancer, ALS and HIV/AIDS. 

Mello and Fire's discovery has garnered numerous honors. Earlier this year, the pair received two prestigious scientific accolades — Brandeis’ 2005 Lewis S. Rosenstiel Award for Distinguished Work in Medical Research and the Canadian government’s 2005 Gairdner International Award. In addition, both received the National Academy of Sciences Award in Molecular Biology and the Wiley Prize in the Biomedical Sciences in 2003.  Their RNAi finding also was named the 2002 "Breakthrough of the Year" by Science magazine and, remarkably, was also on Science's list of the top 10 scientific advances in 2003. 

Mello, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator, holds his BS in biochemistry from Brown University and his PhD in Cellular and Developmental Biology from Harvard University. He was a postdoctoral fellow at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center before coming to Worcester to join UMMS in 1995.  He is also a 1995 Pew Scholar in the Biomedical Sciences. His work so inspired philanthropists John F. "Jack" Blais and wife Shelley that they contributed a $3 million gift in October 2003 to establish the Blais University Chair in Molecular Medicine to assist Mello in his future research endeavors.  

The National Academy of Sciences is a private organization of scientists and engineers dedicated to the furtherance of science and its use for the general welfare. The Academy, which acts as an official adviser to the federal government, upon request, in any matter of science or technology, this year elected 72 new members and 18 foreign associates from 14 countries, bringing the total number of active members to 1,976. Additional information about the institution is available on the Internet at . 

For more information, contact: 

University of Massachusetts Medical School Public Affairs:
Mark L. Shelton, Associate Vice Chancellor for University Relations, 508-856-2000
Alison Duffy, News Media Associate, 508-856-2000

More Information on Dr. Mello: 

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 $167 million in research funding annually, 80% of which comes from federal funding sources. Research funding enables UMMS scientists to explore human disease from the molecular level to large-scale clinical trials. Basic and clinical research leads to new approaches for diagnosis, treatment and prevention of disease. Visit for additional information.