Nobel Prize in Medicine or Physiology 2012: Stem Cells

This year’s Nobel Prize in Medicine or Physiology has been awarded to John Gurdon and Shinya Yamanaka for their pioneering work on stem cells. If you read my post on stem cells, their Prize goes out to the work they’ve done in reprogramming differentiated somatic cells into becoming pluripotent – in other words, for turning adult cells back into stem cells. Here is what they did to earn the Prize. I don’t know enough to do a full research biography, sorry!

Gurdon’s prize-winning experiment was taking out the nucleus from a Xeopus laevis frog egg, and replacing it with the nucleus from a tadpole somatic cell. Remarkably, a frog developed, proving that the somatic cell nucleus contains the same information as a stem cell nucleus, and that the egg’s cytoplasm can reprogram a differentiated cell’s nucleus to express a stem cell’s properties. This is what underlies cloning (Dolly the sheep was made this way). Of course, he and his colleagues then went on to do many more experiments to detail the various factors that ffect the success of the process, but that initial experiment was the eye- and field-opening one.

Yamanaka’s research is summarised in my stem cell post: it’s his lab that figured out how to make the iPS cells I praise in that post. I said above that Gurdon had discovered that the egg cytoplasm can reprogram an implanted nucleus. Yamanaka discovered how the cytoplasm does this and replicated it, building the framework that, with further research, will grant us the ability to turn any cell into a stem cell.

As you can see, their work is groundbreaking. Gurdon’s work can be seen as the foundation of regenerative medicine, and Yamanaka’s work is the most impressive work that arose from those foundations.

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