RNAi pioneers Andy Fire and Craig Mello have won this year’s Nobel Prize in physiology for their discovery of RNAi, the Karolinska Institute announced in early October.
Though most in the RNAi field had expected the two researchers would eventually receive the prize for their work, some were surprised that it had been awarded so quickly.
Despite this, and despite being the most important recognition of the gene-silencing technology, some stress that it is unlikely that the event will have much of an impact on the RNAi industry.
Although it can sometimes take decades before researchers are awarded the Nobel Prize for their work, Rockefeller University’s Tom Tuschl notes that the speed with which the Nobel Foundation recognized Fire and Mello speaks to the importance of their work.
RNAi “had a profound impact on publication status in journals; it has industry behind it, at least in mammalian systems, [producing] reagents that are used in pharmacologic research for target validation; it [led to] startup businesses that are developing drugs based on siRNAs,” he says. “So I don’t know how long you have to wait to see an impact. I don’t know what else you need to make this a more visible field.”
Tuschl likened the discovery of RNAi to Kary Mullis’ development of PCR, after which “every laboratory [began] using it because there was no other way to amplify a gene in a fast period of time.” Mullis invented PCR in 1985 and was awarded the Nobel Prize eight years later in 1993.
In light of the impact RNAi has had, “the Nobel Prize is almost late,” Tuschl says.
— Doug Macron