The researchers who pioneered the creation of "designer mice" to track the role of different genes in human development and disease have won the 2007 Nobel medicine prize, Sweden's Karolinska Institute said on Monday.
The prestigious 10 million Swedish crown ($1.54 million) prize recognized Mario Capecchi, Martin Evans and Oliver Smithies for helping discover "the roles of numerous genes in embryonic development, adult physiology, aging and disease".
In 2001, the three took the Albert Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research, seen as the U.S. version of the Nobel since many of its recipients have gone on to become Nobel Laureates.
Italian-born Capecchi is a U.S. citizen, as is Smithies. Both Evans, who was knighted for his contributions to science, and Smithies are British-born.
"It's certainly something that everybody would love to hear and it's marvelous news both with respect to our laboratory as well as our university," Capecchi told Reuters after hearing he had won the prize.
"What we developed is a way of modifying genes in the mouse which allows us to model human disease, study their pathology as well as ... developing new therapies."
The prize awarders said the discoveries made by the three have led to a new branch of medicine known as gene targeting -- turning mice genes on and off to determine their effect on diseases and physiological development.
"The development of gene targeting technology in the mouse has had a profound influence on medical research," said Stephen O'Rahilly, Head of the Department of Clinical Biochemistry, University of Cambridge.
"Thanks to this technology we have a much better understanding of the function of specific genes in pathways in the whole organism and a greater ability to predict whether drugs acting on those pathways are likely to have beneficial effects in disease."
Capecchi and Smithies' research showed genes can be targeted, modified and repaired if defective. Evans offered the means for achieving this by isolating embryonic stem cells in mice, which give rise to all the cells in the body.
Their work led to breakthrough revelations about the development of organs, the causes of some human birth defects along with models for diseases such as cystic fibrosis, hypertension and atherosclerosis.
Medicine is traditionally the first of the Nobels handed out each year. The prizes for achievement in science, literature and peace bearing the name of Alfred Nobel were first awarded in 1901 according to the will of the Swedish dynamite millionaire.
The Nobel Laureate for physics will be revealed on Tuesday, followed by that for chemistry on Wednesday, literature on Thursday and the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday in Oslo.
Capecchi, born in Verona in 1937, received his PhD in 1967 from Harvard. He is a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator and Distinguished Professor of Human Genetics and Biology at the University of Utah in the United States.
Evans, born in 1941, received a PhD in anatomy and embryology in 1969 from University College, London. He is director of the School of Biosciences and Professor of Mammalian Genetics at Cardiff University in Britain.
Smithies, born in 1925, received his doctorate in biochemistry in 1951 from Oxford. He is the Excellence Professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at the University of North Carolina in the United States.
(Additional reporting by Maggie Fox in Washington, Michael Kahn in London and Niklas Pollard, Emma Bengtsson and Adam Cox in Stockholm)