Stem cell pioneers win Nobel for medicine

Posted: October 9, 2012 at 6:11 am

Shinya Yamanaka of Japan and John Gurdon of Britain won the Nobel Prize for work in cell programming, a frontier that has nourished dreams of replacement tissue for people crippled by disease.

The two scientists found that adult cells can be transformed back to an infant state called stem cells, the key ingredient in the vision of regenerative medicine.

"Their findings have revolutionised our understanding of how cells and organisms develop," the Nobel jury declared on Monday. "By reprogramming human cells, scientists have created new opportunities to study diseases and develop methods for diagnosis and therapy."

Among those who acclaimed the award were Britain's Royal Society, Ian Wilmut, "father" of Dolly the cloned sheep, and a leading ethicist, who said it eased a storm about the use of embryonic cells.

Stem cells are precursor cells which differentiate into the various organs of the body.

They have stirred huge excitement, with hopes that they can be coaxed into growing into replacement tissue for victims of Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and other diseases.

Gurdon, 79, said he was grateful but also surprised by the honour, since his main research was done a half-century ago.

In 1962, he discovered that the DNA code in the nucleus of an adult frog cell held all the information to develop into every kind of cell.

This meant that an adult cell could in essence be reprogrammed.

His landmark discovery was initially met with scepticism, as the journey from immature to specialised cell was previously deemed irreversible.

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Stem cell pioneers win Nobel for medicine

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