The prize is a particularly striking accomplishment for Capecchi (pronounced kuh-PEK'-ee). A native of Italy, he was separated from his mother, a poet, at age 3 when the Gestapo took her to the Dachau concentration camp as a political prisoner in 1941. He spent a year with a peasant family, until the money she'd left for his care ran out.
At age 4, "I started wandering the streets," he recalled Monday. For about four years, he lived on the streets or in orphanages, and he ended up in a hospital with malnutrition.
Dachau was liberated in 1945 and his mother survived.
"Then she set out to find me," searching through hospital records. "I was in a hospital and when they keep you in a hospital, they didn't want you to run around. They took your clothes away. She came and bought me an outfit."
She showed up on Capecchi's 9th birthday. Soon thereafter, "we were on a boat to America ... I literally expected roads to be paved with gold. What I found was, it was a land of opportunity," he said.
In the United States, he went to school for the first time, starting in third grade despite not knowing English.
Mario R. Capecchi is awarded Nobel Prize in Medicine this year along with two other scientists. Here is an excerpt from Nobel Foundations Press Release on this occasion:
"This year's Nobel Laureates have made a series of ground-breaking discoveries concerning embryonic stem cells and DNA recombination in mammals. Their discoveries led to the creation of an immensely powerful technology referred to as gene targeting in mice. It is now being applied to virtually all areas of biomedicine – from basic research to the development of new therapies.
Gene targeting is often used to inactivate single genes. Such gene "knockout" experiments have elucidated the roles of numerous genes in embryonic development, adult physiology, aging and disease. To date, more than ten thousand mouse genes (approximately half of the genes in the mammalian genome) have been knocked out. Ongoing international efforts will make "knockout mice" for all genes available within the near future.
With gene targeting it is now possible to produce almost any type of DNA modification in the mouse genome, allowing scientists to establish the roles of individual genes in health and disease. Gene targeting has already produced more than five hundred different mouse models of human disorders, including cardiovascular and neuro-degenerative diseases, diabetes and cancer."