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The Chemist













In Memoriam:

It is with deep sadness that we acknowledge the passing of Dr. Oliver Smithies, recipient of the 2007 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine and the American Institute of Chemists (AIC) 2009 Gold Medal. Born in England, Dr. Smithies received his D. Phil. In Biochemistry from Oxford University in 1951. He then worked at Connaught Medical Research Laboratory-Toronto (1953-1960) and the University of Wisconsin-Madison (1960-1987). He joined the faculty at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill as Excellence Professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine in 1988. Author of an astounding 294 peer-reviewed biochemistry articles and the recipient of honorary doctorates from both Duke University and the University of Chicago, Dr. Smithies received 36 scientific awards and honors including the Nobel Prize.
In a series of landmark publications during the 1950’s, Dr. Smithies developed and reported a new method of zone electrophoresis using starch gel which greatly improved and simplified the separation of proteins and nucleic acids. This innovation became standard in laboratories and was used by Dr. Smithies to study the heredity and polymorphisms of human and animal haptoglobins, transferrins, and gamma globulins. He provided new insights on the role of chromosomal rearrangement and gene duplication in the evolution of protein structure, heterogeneity of enzymes, structural proteins, and antibodies.
Dr. Smithies then developed a technique for introducing specific DNA sequences into specific places in the genome of cells grown in tissue culture. By this he proved that it was possible to replicate the homologous DNA recombination which occurs naturally in cells and is the basis of genetic diversity. His ultimate goal was the treatment of genetic diseases through the correction of mutations in the stem cells of the individual. Using this form of “gene targeting” and embryonic stem cells, Dr. Smithies created transgenic mice (designer mice) which replicated human genetic diseases. He produced numerous animal models with human diseases allowing him and others to use these for medical experimentation. Subsequently, he created “knock-out” mice through the removal of specific genes. This allowed him to study the function of a gene by observing what changed after a gene was removed. Today, this giant among biochemists has been honored both for the concepts, tools and techniques which he gave to the world and also for the graciousness with which he taught, helped, and inspired students and colleagues.
Dr. Smithies is survived by his wife, Dr. Nobuyo Maeda, a distinguished professor at UNC-Chapel Hill Medical School. We extend our sincere condolences to her and to Dr. Smithies’ many friends!
The AIC Awards Committee
The American Institute of Chemists Members and Fellows.