Nobel Prize Awarded For Stem Cell Discoveries

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Oct. 8 2012 9:15 AM

And the Nobel Prize For Medicine Goes to ...

Kyoto University professor Shinya Yamanaka arrives for a press conference after winning the Nobel Medicine Prize on Monday

Photo by Jiji Press/AFP/GettyImages.

British scientist John Gurdon and Japanese researcher Shinya Yamanaka were jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine on Monday for experiments separated by nearly half a century that, in the words of the the selection committee, "revolutionaized our understanding of how cells and organisms develop."

The Associated Press with the details:

"In 1962, Gurdon wowed the world of biology by cloning a frog via a clever technique. He transplanted the genetic material from an intestinal cell of one frog into the fertilized egg cell from another. The egg developed into a tadpole, proving that all of the genetic instructions needed to turn an embryo into an adult exist even in so-called adult cells of the body — the specialized cells that make up skin, muscle, nerves and other tissues.
"In 2006 and 2007, Yamanaka extended that insight by turning back time on individual cells from both mice and humans. By sprinkling four genes on ordinary skin cells, Yamanaka discovered a virtual fountain of youth for cells: Any type of cell, he found, could be reverted to a young, embryonic state. These “induced” embryonic cells behave much like the ethically contentious stem cells gleaned from human embryos. They can be grown into many other types of tissues but without having to destroy any embryos."

You can read the official Nobel announcement here. As Slate contributors Darshak Sanghavi explained last week while predicting that Yamanaka would win the prize, his discovery "paves the way for scientists to create personalized stem cells from anyone and then program them to form any type of cell in the body." John Travis likewise tagged the Japanese researcher as the odds-on favorite to win this year's prize.* You can check out the rest of Slate's Nobel prize predictions here.

*Correction: An earlier version of this post mistakenly credited Slate contributor Vaughan Bell for calling a Yamanaka win ahead of time. Bell, however, predicted the prize would go to a group associated with optogenetics.

Josh Voorhees is a Slate senior writer. He lives in Iowa City. 



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