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Published in CenterView on March 15, 2010

Nobel laureate to give Nelson lecture

When Dr. Oliver Smithies takes the podium for the Gertrude and Florian Nelson Cardiovascular Research Lecture on April 1, the audience members can expect a knock-out talk.

A Nobel Prize Laureate and world-renowned genetics researcher, Smithies is one of three scientists who developed a method of deleting - or knocking out - select genes in mice. That allows researchers to engineer mice with certain genes missing and compare outcomes against mice with the same gene intact.


Scientists worldwide use knockout mice to study any number of diseases, from coronary artery disease to cancer. In short, the discovery laid a foundation block of modern genetic studies.

The Nelson Lecture is presented by UMMC's Center for Excellence in Cardiovascular-Renal Research and the American Heart Association.

Smithies, 84, is the Weatherspoon Eminent Distinguished Professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Born in England, he earned his Ph.D. in biochemistry at the University of Oxford in 1951.

While at the University of Toronto's Connaught Medical Research Laboratory as a research associate, he developed gel electrophoresis, a method of separating DNA by passing current through a tray of gel. It's a system still in common use.

In 1960, he joined the University of Wisconsin-Madison as an assistant professor of genetics and medical genetics and deepened his investigations into genetics. Smithies took a position at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1988, where he continued working on gene targeting.

Along with Dr. Mario Capecchi of the University of Utah and Dr. Martin Evans of Cardiff University, Smithies was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2007 in recognition of the knockout method.

The Nelson Lecture is scheduled, "Turning Pages: From Gels to Genes," for noon in room R153 (lower amphitheatre). Boxed lunches will be available on a first-come basis.