Sweden's Karolinska Institute on Monday announced that two scientists have won the 2012 Nobel Prize for Medicine for discovering that fully specialized adult cells can be reprogrammed back into stem cells and could be used to repair damaged organs.
Gurdon Institute's John Gurdon and Kyoto University's Shinya Yamanaka will share the $1.2 million award equally.
In 1962, Gurdon discovered that cell specialization could be reversed. The British researcher replaced an immature cell nucleus from a frog egg with the nucleus of a mature intestinal cell and found that the modified egg cell developed into a normal tadpole. The cloning experiment proved that mature cells retained all the genetic information required to develop into any frog cell.
Forty-four years later, Yamanaka discovered that he could reprogram intact, mature skin cells in mice to become unspecialized stem cells by adding just four genes to reset them.
The reprogrammed, pluripotent stem cells could one day be used to repair damaged organs and tissues, such as neurons in a brain of an individual with Alzheimer's disease.
Gurdon and Yamanaka's discoveries "revolutionized our understanding of how cells and organisms develop" the Nobel Assembly said in a statement. Specifically, the Assembly said, "These groundbreaking discoveries have completely changed our view of the development and specialization of cells" (Lannin et al., Reuters, 10/8; CNN, 10/8; Gallagher, BBC News, 10/8).
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