STOCKHOLM, Sweden - US citizens Mario R. Capecchi and Oliver Smithies and Briton Sir Martin J. Evans won the 2007 Nobel Prize in medicine on Monday for groundbreaking discoveries that led to a technology known as gene targeting.
The process has helped scientists develop models on mice of human disorders from cardiovascular and neuro-degenerative ailments, diabetes and cancer.
The researchers used so-called "knockout mice" - animals whose genetic code has been altered in the lab to either turn on or off certain genes that mice and humans share.
In its citation, the award committee said that the use of gene targeting has helped expand the knowledge of "numerous genes in embryonic development, adult physiology, aging and disease."
Capecchi, 70, who was born in Italy, did work that "shed light on the cause of several human inborn malformations," the prize citation said, while Evans, 66, applied gene targeting to develop mouse models for human diseases.
Smithies, 82, born in Britain, also used gene targeting to develop mouse models for inherited diseases such as cystic fibrosis and the blood disease thalassemia, and other diseases such as hypertension and atherosclerosis.
"Gene targeting has pervaded all fields of biomedicine. Its impact on the understanding of gene function and its benefits to mankind will continue to increase over many years to come," the citation said.
The medicine prize was the first of the six prestigious awards to be announced this year. The others are chemistry, physics, literature, peace and economics.
The prizes are handed out every year on December 10, the anniversary of award founder Alfred Nobel's death in 1896.
Last year, the Nobel Prize in medicine went to Americans Andrew Z. Fire and Craig C. Mello for discovering RNA interference, a process that can silence specific genes.