NICHD supports quality research and investigation that helps to improve the lives of children, adults, families, and communities. During the institute's more than 50 years, several of our grantees have been awarded the Nobel Prize in recognition for scientific and other advances.
Mario R. Capecchi was a co-winner of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2007, along with Sir Martin Evans and Oliver Smithies , for his work on the development of gene targeting in mouse-derived embryonic stem cells, making it possible for "knockout" mice to become an invaluable animal model.
In 2006, Andrew Z. Fire and Craig C. Mello received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for research in the animal model C. Elegans (roundworms) on RNA interference (RNAi), the process of shutting off specific genes to control the flow of genetic information.
In 2002, H. Robert Horvitz received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Sydney Brenner and John E. Sulston for "discoveries concerning genetic regulation of organ development and programmed cell death"—the process by which organisms make room for the billions of new cells they make daily.
James J. Heckman, a longtime NICHD grantee, shared the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel in 2000 with Daniel L. McFadden. The award recognized their work to help researchers and statisticians in economics and other fields use data from limited, biased samples in place of population-based samples. The work includes the Heckman correction, a two-step statistical approach, corrects for non-randomly selected samples and allows researchers to determine whether specific findings may apply to broader populations.
Louis J. Ignarro shared the 1998 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Robert F. Furchgott and Ferid Murad for the scientists' findings concerning "nitric oxide as a signaling molecule in the cardiovascular system." After Furchgott ascertained that blood vessels become dilated because the endothelial cell produced an unknown signal molecule he called endothelium-derived relaxing factor (EDRF). Ignarro discovered that EDRF was identical to nitric oxide. This finding has had myriad applications for medical applications ranging from reducing dangerously high blood pressure in infant lungs, to the development of erectile dysfunction medications.
In 1995, Eric F. Wieschaus and Edward B. Lewis received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine along with Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard . Wieschaus and Nüsslein-Volhard used a Drosophila animal model to find and catalog genes that critical for determining the plan and formation of body segments. Lewis established that genes are arranged on the chromosomes in the order of the body segments that they control. Subsequent studies revealed that similar genes were found in humans, helping to explain the origins of congenital malformations and revolutionizing the study of human development and developmental disorders.
In 1992, Gary S. Becker received the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel for broadening the scope of microeconomic analysis to include human behavior that lies outside traditional concepts of market activity. He was also one of the first economists to study how individuals and families invest in education and experience to produce human capital, and his research broadened understanding of the factors influencing wages, incomes, and wealth over extended periods of time.
In 1989, Sidney Altman and Thomas R. Cech received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for the discovery that RNA (ribonucleic acid) in cells is not only a molecule of heredity, but can also act as an enzyme.
Stanley Cohen received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1986 with Rita Levi-Montalcini for the discovery of nerve growth factor and epidermal growth factor (EGF), which stimulates non-nerve growth. Cohen and his colleagues went on to illuminate how EGF influences development and provides a target for chemotherapy. This research has proven fundamental to understanding the development of cancer and for designing anti-cancer drugs.
Sune K. Bergström was a co-recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1982 with Bengt I. Samuelsson and John R. Vane for their discoveries concerning "prostaglandins and related biologically active substances." Their discovery that membranes have the ability to produce prostaglandins also made it possible to synthetically produce it for clinical use, including the induction of labor, treatment of peptic ulcers, reduction of pulmonary hypertension, and treatment of glaucoma.
C.L. Guillemin and Andrew Schally received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1977 for their findings concerning the production of peptide hormones—substances made by short amino acids—in the brain. Their work highlighted the importance of these hormones in growth, development, reproduction, and stress reactions.
Christian de Duve was jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Albert Claude and George E. Palade in 1974 for discoveries regarding the "structural and functional organization of the cell." This work includes the discovery of lysosomes, which break down waste, and peroxisomes, which break down long fatty acid chains. Subsequent studies revealed several hereditary diseases caused by lysosomal enzyme deficiencies, in which indigestible material in the lysosomes swells and engorges the cell.
Gerald M. Edelman shared the 1972 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Rodney R. Porter for their work on understanding the chemical structures of antibodies, including the unique binding sites that allow antibodies to "specialize" in targeting specific foreign agents in the body. This discovery provided a foundation for subsequent research on how antibodies function and ignited research worldwide that continues to yield practical results for the treatment of numerous diseases and clinical diagnostics.