Mario Capecchi on Current Research
  Mario Capecchi     Biography    
Recorded: 27 Feb 2003

Now, I’m at the University of Utah. I’ve been there forever. That means over almost thirty years. And initially, I mean I went there for funny reasons, I think. I was at Harvard Medical School, it was a very good department in the sense they had excellent people. But people didn’t get along. And so that after a while became a little bit irritating because we’d go to meetings and everybody would be arguing and fighting with each other, but then trying to accomplish something. So I decided, you know, I should try something very different. I mean rather than going to Yale or to Caltech, I decided to go to Utah. Which nobody had ever heard of and Harvard thought I was absolutely out of my mind. I actually went to Jim and asked him, “What do you think about going to Utah?” And he looked at me and he says, “I think you can do good science anywhere.” So that gave me enough confidence to go out there and see what happens. [Watson clip]

And it turns out, I think, a very good move because what it allowed me to do was to actually work on long term projects which I wouldn’t have been able to do at Harvard.

This is working on developing central gene targeting. And there was essentially a ten year project before we had any success. And in many places you wouldn’t have that luxury. I mean they’d throw you out before you ever got there. Whereas at Utah I could do that and they didn’t bother me. And I could work until the thing really worked. We have enough confidence that if we tried long enough we would get it to work and it turned out to be good.

I’m, unfortunately, I’m co-chair of the department. The fortunate part is that we are going to recruit a lot of new faculty. And that’s why I essentially took that position cause now we all of a sudden we can essentially double our faculty over the next six years and so that will be challenging and fun. But it is a lot of work.

Mario R. Capecchi, Ph.D., is a scientist and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator at the Eccles Institute of Human Genetics at the University of Utah Health Sciences Center and a founding member of the Brain Institute at the University of Utah. He also serves as the Distinguished Professor and Co-Chairman of Human Genetics and Biology at the University of Utah, where he joined the faculty in 1973.

In 2007 Mario Capecchi was awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine with Oliver Smithies and Martin Evans for their research on gene targeting techniques, specifically working with mice embryo-derived stem cells. In the 1980s Capecchi pioneered a technology known as "knockout mice" which revolutionized genetic and biomedical research. This technology allows scientists to replace or disrupt specific genes in mice to understand how a similar gene disruption in humans may cause or contribute to diseases.

Capecchi, abandoned and homeless as a 4-year old child in Italy during World War II, was reunited with his mother and immigrated to the United States in 1946. After receiving a B.S. in physics and chemistry from Antioch College in 1961, he joined Jim Watson's Biological laboratory at Harvard University where he received a doctorate in biophysics in 1967. Capecchi remained at Harvard, first as a junior fellow until 1969, followed by four years as Assistant Professor in the Department of Biochemistry at Harvard School of Medicine, until he left for the University of Utah in 1973.

Capecchi is a member of the National Academy of Sciences (1991) and the European Academy of Sciences (2002). His other numerous honors include the Bristol-Myers Squibb Award for Distinguished Achievement in Neuroscience Research (1992), Gairdner Foundation International Award for Achievements in Medical Science (1993), General Motors Corporation's Alfred P. Sloan Jr. Prize for Outstanding Basic Science Contributions to Cancer Research (1994), Kyoto Prize in Basic Sciences (1996), the Franklin Medal for Advancing Our Knowledge of the Physical Sciences (1997), the University of Utah's Rosenblatt Prize for Excellence (1998), the Albert Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research (2001), the National Medal of Science (2001), the Wolf Prize in Medicine (2003), the Pezcoller Foundation-AACR (American Association for Cancer Research) International Award for Cancer Research (2003), and the March of Dimes Prize in Developmental Biology (2005).