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Prime Minister leads the tributes for Cardiff Nobel laureate

09 October 2007

The Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, has led the congratulations for Cardiff University's Professor Sir Martin Evans FRS, winner of this year's Nobel Prize for Medicine, the most prestigious honour in world science.

The Nobel Assembly announced Professor Sir Martin as one of three winners this year for "a series of ground-breaking discoveries concerning embryonic stem cells and DNA recombination in mammals."

Professor Sir Martin was the first scientist to identify embryonic stem cells, which can be adapted for a wide variety of medical purposes. His discoveries are now being applied in virtually all areas of biomedicine – from basic research to the development of new therapies.

The Prime Minister said: "I want to congratulate Professor Sir Martin Evans on this marvellous achievement. This is a proud day for Sir Martin, for Cardiff University and for the country.

"Last week, Lord Sainsbury, the Chancellor and I launched a new strategy to make Britain a world leader in science and technology. It is my hope that our budding young scientists will follow the lead of Sir Martin Evans and that the UK can produce many more Nobel Prize winners in the years ahead."

Welsh Assembly Government First Minister Rhodri Morgan also offered his congratulations. He said: "On behalf of the people of Wales, I send my personal congratulations to Sir Martin and to his colleagues for winning the most prestigious title in medicine.

"The fact that Sir Martin has done pioneering work on embryonic stem cells has already set him out as a world leader in his field of research and this recognition is a real ‘feather in the cap’ for the Welsh higher education sector, and for Wales as a whole.

"A role model like Sir Martin is precisely what is needed to encourage the young people of Wales into challenging careers in science and technology and develop the potential to become the Nobel Laureates of the future.

"Wales has already attracted multinational research companies that recognise the potential Wales has to offer and by winning this most prestigious award, Sir Martin has given the Welsh health research sector international credibility in a way that nothing else can."

Sir Martin himself said: "I’m very pleased that British science is being honoured in this way. It is a boyhood dream come true."

Sir Martin will share the £755,000 prize with two other pioneers in the stem cell field, Professor Mario Capecchi of the University of Utah and Professor Oliver Smithies of the University of North Carolina. Their research led to the creation of a powerful new technology know as gene targeting, now used in virtually all areas of biomedicine – from basic research to the development of new therapies.

Gene targeting is often used to inactivate single genes. These experiments can then shed light on the role of the genes in development, aging and disease. The technique has already produced more than 500 different models of human disorders, including cardio-vascular diseases, diabetes and cancer.

Announcing the award, the Nobel Assembly said of the three men’s research: "Its impact on the understanding of gene function and its benefits to mankind will continue to increase over many years to come."

One of the first people to congratulate Sir Martin was the Vice-Chancellor of Cardiff University, Dr David Grant. "The Nobel Prize is tribute not just to the academic brilliance of Sir Martin’s discoveries, once thought by many to be impossible, but also to the wide-ranging benefits of his research," he said.

"As the Nobel Assembly correctly points out, the breakthroughs by Sir Martin and his fellow Nobel laureates have generated an explosion of international research activity applying their techniques. Sir Martin himself has developed models for diseases such as human breast cancer, just one of the diseases where our understanding has been revolutionised, offering hope to millions of sufferers around the world."

Professor John Harwood, Head of the School of Biosciences, said: "This is fantastic news and clearly is very well deserved. Martin’s research into stem cells and gene therapy is very important and offers all sorts of promise to medicine.

"This is also marvellous news for Cardiff University and Wales. Cardiff improves year on year and this is another accolade for the University. In science it doesn't come any higher than the Nobel Prize."

Professor Sir Martin has been a key figure in establishing the University as a world-leading centre for biomedical research. Last year the University was listed in the world’s top 100, and the top ten in the UK, for biomedicine in the Times Higher Educational Supplement World University Rankings.

The Nobel Prize for Medicine is traditionally the first of the Nobels awarded each year. The prizes for achievement in the sciences, literature and peace were first awarded in 1901, in accordance with the will of the Swedish dynamite millionaire Alfred Nobel.