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Americans Win Nobel for Work in Genetic Therapy

This year's Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine goes to two American researchers, Andrew Fire of Stanford University and Craig Mello of the University of Massachusetts. The pair, who discovered how to selectively silence genes that cause disease, will share the $1.4 million prize.

Fire and Mello focused on RNA interference, a way of affecting how the genetic code from DNA is translated into a working protein.

Each gene contains the instructions to make a particular protein. Some of the proteins are good proteins, but some are bad, like cholesterol.

Fire and Mello discovered that special types of RNA could interfere with protein production. Their work, published in 1998, could eventually be applied to cancer and AIDS research.

The RNA interference research is not yet being used on humans -- it's only in animal experiments right now.

Earlier this year, a promising study was published that showed RNA interference could be used to block a certain type of cholesterol. In the study, a small bit of RNA blocked the production of the cholesterol protein.

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Since he joined NPR in 2000, Knox has covered a broad range of issues and events in public health, medicine, and science. His reports can be heard on NPR's Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Weekend Edition, Talk of the Nation, and newscasts.
Deborah Amos covers the Middle East for NPR News. Her reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition.