Public Release: 

Oliver Smithies wins major award from Japanese research foundation

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Dr. Oliver Smithies of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has received the 15th International Okamoto Award from the Japan Vascular Disease Research Foundation for contributions to medical research.

The award, one of the most prestigious given in Japan, consists of 1 million yen -- about $10,000 -- a gold medallion and a certificate. Dr. Hiroo Imura, chairman of the foundation's board of directors, presented it to the UNC-CH scientist in Kyoto July 14 in a special ceremony during that city's world-famous Gion Festival.

According to the citation, Smithies, excellence professor of pathology and laboratory medicine at the UNC-CH School of Medicine, won the honor for "great achievement in breaking new ground in the hypertensive and arteriosclerotic research field on the basis of molecular genetics."

The scientist has boosted knowledge of genes and genetic engineering and applied that knowledge to alter genes in mice in useful ways. For example, using gene targeting, a technique he pioneered, he and colleagues developed mice with mutations that model human genetic diseases such as cystic fibrosis, some forms of anemia and atherosclerosis, a condition commonly called "hardening of the arteries." Thousands of other researchers around the world have adopted his technique as well.

In recent years, along with his wife Dr. Nobuyo Madea, the scientist has been studying high blood pressure -- a major human problem -- with the genetically altered mice.

A member of the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, Smithies has earned many international, national and state awards. Among those were two Gairdner awards, the Alfred P. Sloan Award of the General Motors Foundation, the Ciba Award of the American Heart Association, the Bristol Myers Squibb Award for cardiovascular and metabolic disease research and a North Carolina Award in Science.

In a 1995 profile, the New York Times called Smithies "a scientific phenomenon, a man whose intellectual pace has continued unabated for half a century...who continues to break new scientific ground."

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Note: Smithies can be reached at 919-966-6913. Contact: David Williamson, 962-8596.

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