Photo_honorary degree(For website)

Prof Mario Capecchi, a co-recipient of the 2007 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, was awarded a Doctor of Science honoris causa degree by the University of Macau (UM) on 23 May, in recognition of his contributions to the development of gene targeting and biomedical treatment for cancer. Following the ceremony, Prof Capecchi presented a Doctor honoris causa Lecture, in which he discussed different kinds of gene mutation technologies and how the murine models derived from these technologies can be used to treat cancer.

Dr Lam Kam Seng, chair of UM’s University Council, officiated at the ceremony in the company of UM Rector Wei Zhao. Prof Chuxia Deng, dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences, delivered the citation for Prof Capecchi. Prof Deng noted in the citation that Prof Capecchi’s achievement of excellence ‘beckons and inspires young scientists’. Prof Deng added that Prof Capecchi was mentored by two Nobel laureates, Prof James Watson and Prof Walter Gilbert, and later published a ground-breaking paper on gene targeting in mice, which awed the scientists in the field and was hailed as the second ‘Giant Leap’ after the human landing on the moon. ‘The murine model derived from the gene targeting technology has contributed immensely to research in developmental biology, immunology, neurobiology, oncology, physiology, metabolism and human diseases,’ read the citation.

During the lecture, Prof Capecchi noted that gene targeting has become a widely used technology in the study of gene functions in mammals. The technology gives scientists virtually complete freedom to manipulate the DNA sequences in the genome of living mice, and to choose which genes to mutate and how to mutate them. This allows scientists to study some of the most complicated biological processes, such as how an animal grow, learn and behave, and what causes the onset of a disease. The traditional gene knockout technology was mainly used to create knockout mice by blocking a certain gene expression in the reproductive system of the mice. However, in traditional gene knockout embryonic death from a gene mutation can occur and this prevents scientists from studying the gene in adults. Conditional gene knockout, on the other hand, targets specific genes at specific times rather than eliminating the genes from the beginning of the animal’s life. Prof Capecchi discussed how gene targeting and conditional gene knockout technologies can be used to create mouse models to facilitate research on human diseases, including cancer and neuropsychiatric disorders.

The lecture attracted hundreds of experts, scholars, researchers, and UM faculty and students. Participants had an in-depth discussion with Prof Capecchi on gene targeting and how the technology can be used to treat human diseases. Following the lecture, Prof Capecchi participated in the Third Macao Symposium on Biomedical Sciences, organised by UM’s Faculty of Health Sciences, where he exchanged ideas with biomedical scientists from around the world.

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