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NEWS


For immediate use

Nov. 6, 2003 -- No. 589

Institute of Medicine elects Oliver Smithies

By DAVID WILLIAMSON
UNC News Services

CHAPEL HILL -- Dr. Oliver Smithies of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine has been elected to the national Institute of Medicine, one of the highest honors U.S. physicians, health scientists and other experts can earn.

Smithies is one of 65 new members, raising the instituteís total active U.S. membership to 1,382.

"It is a great pleasure to welcome these distinguished and influential individuals to the Institute of Medicine," said Dr. Harvey V. Fineberg, the organizationís president. "Members are elected through a highly selective process that recognizes those who have made major contributions to the advancement of the medical sciences, health care and public health."

Excellence professor of pathology and laboratory medicine, Smithies already has won many honors for gene targeting, a technique he pioneered. He developed it as a way to create mice with specific genetic mutations that can mimic human genetic illnesses such as cystic fibrosis, some forms of anemia, high blood pressure and atherosclerosis, often called "hardening of the arteries."

Since then, thousands of other researchers around the world have adopted the technique and have uncovered a rapidly expanding wealth of information about genesí role in health and illness. Earlier, he invented starch gel electrophoresis, a technique that allowed him and others to separate proteins readily.

A member of the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center noted for his leadership and outstanding teaching, Smithies won the 2001 Albert Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research, often called the "Americaís Nobel," and the 2002 Massry Award. Other honors include 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, a North Carolina Award in Science and the International Okamoto Award from the Japan Vascular Disease Research Foundation, one of Japanís highest honors.

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

Current institute members elect new members from among candidates nominated for their professional achievement and commitment to service. Diversity of talent is assured by the institute's charter, which stipulates that at least a quarter of members be selected from outside the health professions from such fields as the natural, social and behavioral sciences, as well as law, administration, engineering and the humanities.

The group is unique for its structure as both an honorific membership organization and an analytic and advisory organization. Established in 1970 by the National Academy of Sciences, it has become recognized as a national resource for independent, scientifically informed analysis and recommendations on issues related to human health.

With their election, members make a commitment to devote a significant amount of volunteer time as members of committees, which engage in a broad range of studies on health policy issues.

Current institute projects include assessment of evidence on the potential benefits and risks of testosterone replacement therapy and if clinical trials should be conducted and how. It also is reviewing current knowledge and policy regarding spinal cord injury, studying factors responsible for the epidemic of obesity in children and developing plans to decrease its prevalence. Institute members also are examining how to address the public's lack of health literacy and exploring patterns of malaria and malarial drug resistance to develop strategies that could lead to better treatment.

Smithies is one of 23 UNC faculty members who have been elected to the institute. In all, UNC ranks 11th among public research institutions for the number of members in the national academies, including the National Academy of Sciences (10) and the National Academy of Engineering (five). In addition, UNC counts 25 of its faculty among the members of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

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Note: Smithies can be reached at (919) 966-6913 or oliver.smithies@pathology.unc.edu. For a photograph, go to http://www.unc.edu/news/pics/faculty/smithies_oliver2.jpg or http://www.unc.edu/news/pics/faculty/smithies_oliver.jpg

Institute of Medicine release:  http://www4.nationalacademies.org/news.nsf/isbn/10272003?OpenDocument

Contact: David Williamson, (919) 962-8596