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09 October 2007
Professor Sir Martin Evans FRS has been described as "the father of stem cell research" and named by The Independent newspaper as one of "Ten Britons who have shaped our world."
Martin Evans gained his BA in Biochemistry from Christ College, University of Cambridge in 1963. He received an MA in 1966 and a DSc in 1996. In 1969 he was awarded a PhD degree from University College, London.
After graduating from Cambridge, he decided on a career studying the genetic control of vertebrate development. His early PhD research led him to explore the use of cultures of mouse teratocarcinoma stem cells in tissue culture systems. He was the first to maintain these cells in tissue culture under conditions where their ability to differentiate was retained indefinitely.
It was not until 1981, after his return to Cambridge, that he was able to isolate similar cells from normal mouse embryos. Subsequently he and his colleagues demonstrated that these cells which became known as "Embryonic Stem Cells" (ES cells) were able to be used to fully regenerate fertile breeding mice from the tissue culture cells and that these could therefore carry mutations introduced and selected or screened for in culture. This is now the basis of all mouse knockout and targeted genetic manipulation.
These fundamental developments created new routes to experimental mammalian genetics and hence functional genomics. Since then, Professor Evans, who came to Cardiff University’s School of Biosciences in 1999, has been exploiting gene knockout and gene trap methods both for novel discovery and to create animal modes of human disease. From his laboratory came the first demonstration of gene therapy to cure the deficit in Cystic Fibrosis in a whole animal and recently, from a mutated mouse model, insights into the breast cancer gene BRCA2 function.
Professor Sir Martin has published more than 120 scientific papers. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1993 and is a founder Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences. In 1993 he was awarded the Walter Cottman Fellowship and the William Bate Hardy Prizes. He was awarded the prestigious Albert Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research in the US in 2001. In 2002 he was awarded an honorary doctorate from Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, regarded as one of the world's foremost centres for medical and scientific training.
Sir Martin is also a member of the Wales Gene Park – which has brought together genetics, life sciences and clinical expertise from across Wales to create a new centre for research of national and international importance which offers state-of-the-art facilities for research, education and commercial exploitation.
Professor Sir Martin was knighted in 2004 for his services to medical science. He is married, with three grown-up children and five grandchildren, one of whom (aged six) has now decided to become a scientist in the wake of his grandfather’s success.
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