Oct 8 2012
British researchers John Gurdon and Shinya Yamanaka of Japan have won this year's Nobel Prize in medicine or physiology.
The prize committee at Stockholm's Karolinska Institute said that they won for discovering that mature, specialised cells of the body can be reprogrammed into blank slates that can become any kind of cell.
The prize committee said: "The discoveries of Gurdon and Yamanaka have shown that specialized cells can turn back the developmental clock under certain circumstances.
"These discoveries have also provided new tools for scientists around the world and led to remarkable progress in many areas of medicine."
The committee said the discovery has "revolutionised our understanding of how cells and organisms develop."
Gurdon showed in 1962 that the DNA from specialized cells of frogs, like skin or intestinal cells, could be used to generate new tadpoles. That showed the DNA still had its ability to drive the formation of all cells of the body.
More than 40 years later, in 2006, Yamanaka showed that a surprisingly simple recipe could turn mature cells back into primitive cells, which in turn could be prodded into different kinds of mature cells.
Basically, the primitive cells were the equivalent of embryonic stem cells, which had been embroiled in controversy because to get human embryonic cells, human embryos had to be destroyed. Yamanaka's method provided a way to get such primitive cells without destroying embryos. Just last week, Japanese scientists reported using Yamanaka's approach to turn skin cells from mice into eggs that produced baby mice.
Gurdon, 79, has served as a professor of cell biology at Cambridge University's Magdalene College and is currently at the Gurdon Institute in Cambridge, which he founded. Yamanaka, born in 1962, worked at the Gladstone Institute in San Francisco and Nara Institute of Science and Technology in Japan.
The medicine award was the first Nobel Prize to be announced this year. The physics award will be announced on Tuesday, followed by chemistry on Wednesday, literature on Thursday and the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday.