Genetics

08 October 2012

Stem cell researchers win Nobel prize

The 2012 Nobel laureates in medicine, John B Gurdon (Britain) and Shinya Yamanaka (Japan), were lauded for having "revolutionised" the understanding of stem cell therapy.

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The 2012 Nobel laureates in medicine, John B Gurdon (Britain) and Shinya Yamanaka (Japan), were Monday lauded for having "revolutionised" the understanding of how cells and organisms developed and can be used to study and treat disease.

The duo "discovered that mature, specialised cells can be reprogrammed to become immature cells capable of developing into all tissues of the body," the Nobel Assembly citation said.

Frogs used in research

Gurdon, 79, who made his landmark discovery in 1962, the year Yamanaka was born, is affiliated to the Gurdon Institute at the University of Cambridge. He used frogs in his research, eliminated the nucleus of cell and replacing it with the nucleus of a specialised cell from tadpole. The modified egg developed into a normal tadpole.

Similar transfers of nuclei have since been conducted on mammals.

Over 40 years later, Yamanaka of Kyoto University, showed how mature cells could be reprogrammed to become immature stem cells that can develop into all types of cells in the body.

Yamanaka is director of the university's Center for iPS Cell Research and Application (CiRA) and regarded as a pioneer of human induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cell technology.

The discoveries offer new opportunities to study and treat diseases, the Karolinska Institute said.

Why the research won

Nobel Committee chairman Urban Lendahl said the research had showed "all differentiated cells encapsulate the ability to go back to the undifferentiated. That is very remarkable."

Gurdon and Yamanaka are to share the Nobel prize money of 8 million kronor (1.2 million dollars).

"I spoke to both on the phone. They were equally happy and look forward to come to Stockholm in December," said Goran K Hansson, Nobel Committee secretary.

Paul Nurse, the president of Britain's Royal Society, of which Gurdon is a member, said: "I was delighted to learn that John Gurdon shares this year's Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine with Shinya Yamanaka.

John's work has changed the way we understand how cells in the body become specialised, paving the way for important developments in the diagnosis and treatment of disease."

The CiRA on Monday issued a statement announcing that Yamanaka and Gurdon had been awarded the Nobel.

Last year, the medicine prize was shared by researchers Bruce A Beutler, Jules A Hoffmann, Ralph M Steinman for the discover of key principles of the immune system. Steinman had died just days before the announcement.

The Nobel for medicine is the first of prized to be announced this year. It is to be followed by the Nobel for physics (Tuesday), chemistry (Wednesday) and literature (Thursday) and peace (Friday).

The prizes were endowed by Swedish industrialist and dynamite inventor Alfred Nobel.

The Nobel for economic sciences - a prize not endowed by Nobel and awarded since 1968 - is due to be announced on October 15.

(Sapa, October 2012)

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