Stem cell pioneers win Nobel prize

The 2012 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine has been awarded to Britain’s Sir John Gurdon and Shinya Yamanaka of Japan for their discovery that mature, specialised cells can be reprogrammed to become pluripotent stem cells.

Gurdon joined Cambridge University in 1972 and has served as Professor of Cell Biology and Master of Magdalene College. He is currently at the Gurdon Institute in Cambridge.

He discovered in 1962 that the specialisation of cells is reversible. He replaced the immature cell nucleus in an egg cell of a frog with the nucleus from a mature intestinal cell, and found that the modified egg cell developed into a normal tadpole.

More than 40 years later, Shinya Yamanaka discovered how intact mature cells in mice could be reprogrammed to become immature stem cells. By introducing only a few genes, he was able to reprogram mature cells to become pluripotent stem cells – immature cells that are able to develop into all types of cells in the body.

Yamanaka is currently Professor at Kyoto University and also affiliated with the Gladstone Institute.

“These groundbreaking discoveries have completely changed our view of the development and cellular specialisation. We now understand that the mature cell does not have to be confined forever to its specialised state,” says the Nobel Assembly.

“Textbooks have been rewritten and new research fields have been established. By reprogramming human cells, scientists have created new opportunities to study diseases and develop methods for diagnosis and therapy.”