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Stem Cell Pioneers Share 2012 Nobel Prize

Sir John B. Gurdon discovered that the specialization of cells is reversible when in a now-classic experiment conducted in 1962 he replaced the immature cell nucleus in a frog's egg cell with the nucleus of a mature intestinal cell. The modified cell developed into a normal tadpole.

More than 40 years later in 2006, Dr. Shinya Yamanaka discovered how intact mature cells in mice could be reprogrammed to become immature stem cells. By introducing only a few genes, he could reprogram mature cells to become pluripotent stem cells, which have the ability to develop into all types of cells in the body.

"These discoveries completely changed our view of the development and cellular specialization by demonstrating that a mature cell does not have to be confined forever to its specialized state," the Assembly stated in the press release announcing the awards. "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."

Dr. Yamanaka was born in Osaka, Japan, in 1962, the same year as Sir John's groundbreaking discovery. He obtained his M.D. in 1987 at Kobe University and trained as an orthopedic surgeon before switching to basic research. Dr. Yamanaka received his Ph.D. at Osaka City University in 1993, after which he worked at the Gladstone Institute in San Francisco and Nara Institute of Science and Technology in Japan. He is currently professor at Kyoto University and affiliated with the Gladstone Institute.

In May, STEM CELLS Translational Medicine published a study in which Dr. Yamanaka participated that detailed a promising new treatment for heart failure by growing sheets of heart muscle tissue from stem cells and implanting them in damaged hearts. (For free access to the paper, "Bioengineered Myocardium Derived from Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells Improves Cardiac Function and Attenuates Cardiac Remodeling Following Chronic Myocardial Infarction in Rats.," go here.)

"We congratulate Dr. Yamanaka on this prestigious award that recognizes his transforming discovery," said Dr. Anthony Atala, M.D., editor of STEM CELLS Translational Medicine and director of the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine. "We are delighted to share his team's current research with our readers."

Sir John was born in 1933 in Dippenhall, UK. He received his doctorate from the University of Oxford in 1960 and was a postdoctoral fellow at California Institute of Technology. He joined Cambridge University in 1972 and has served as professor of cell biology and master of Magdalene College. Sir John is currently the distinguished group leader at the Wellcome Trust/Cancer Research UK Gurdon Institute, located in Cambridge.

Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel created the Nobel prizes in 1895 by to honor work in physiology or medicine, physics, chemistry, literature and peace, with the first awards made in 1901. Economics was added as a category in 1968, and its first prize awarded the following year.

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