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British and Japanese Researchers Awarded The 2012 Nobel Prize For Stem Cell Research

October 8, 2012
Nobel Prize Commemorative Coin. Image Credit: Wikipedia (public domain)

Lawrence LeBlond for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online

Stem cell research has been a controversial, yet important advance in science and medicine for decades. Scientific research has been carried out in numerous areas pertaining to stem cells, and the work of two such researchers in the field have caught the eye of the most prestigious awards organization in the world.

Britain´s Sir John Gurdon and Japan´s Shinya Yamanaka were both awarded the 2012 Nobel Prize for Medicine thanks to their tireless research in nuclear programming, a process that instructs adult cells to form early stem cells which can then be used to form any tissue type.

Gurdon, whose work included taking intestinal samples to clone frogs, and Yamanaka, whose work altered genes to reprogram cells, were awarded the prize by a committee at Stockholm´s Karolinska Institute on Monday. The committee said the discoveries made by both men have “revolutionized our understanding of how cells and organisms develop.”

Sir John Gurdon´s work is from 1962. In his research, he showed that the genetic information inside a cell gleaned from the intestines of a frog contained all the information needed to create a whole new frog. He took the genetic information and placed it inside a frog egg, which then developed into a normal tadpole. Gurdon´s technique would eventually pave the way for later researchers to clone a sheep named Dolly, the first ever cloned mammal.

Fast forward forty years, Shinya Yamanaka took on a different approach. Rather than transferring genetic data into an egg, he reset it.

Yamanaka added four genes to adult skin cells of mice which transformed them into stem cells, which in turn became specialized cells, or induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells. He also announced, in 2007, that he had done the same with human skin cells.

These embryonic iPS cells can develop into any type of cell and, because of this, hold tremendous promise for regenerative medicine, in which damaged organs and tissues can be replaced or repaired.

Use of stem cells are, in the eyes of many in the scientific community, the key to the future of disease eradication. However, the issue has also been controversial, with many opponents of stem cell research crying foul, accusing scientists of playing God.

However, such discoveries have “provided new tools for scientists around the world and led to remarkable progress in many areas of medicine,” said the Nobel Prize committee. Gurdon and Yamanaka´s research could revolutionize modern medicine just by using a sample of someone´s skin to create stem cells, that can in turn, hopefully cure disease.

Imagine a world without Alzheimer´s disease and diabetes. Imagine never having to worry about cancer again. Imagine being able to repair the heart after a heart attack. These are possibilities that may exist in the future with the continued research into stem cells, much like what Gurdon and Yamanaka have strived for through their research.

Sir Gurdon, who runs the Gurdon Institute at Cambridge University, described his research as: “Trying to find ways of obtaining embryo cells from the cells of an adult“¦The eventual aim is to provide replacement cells of all kinds starting from usually obtainable cells of an adult individual“¦For example, we would like to be able to find a way of obtaining spare heart or brain cells from skin or blood cells.”

Yamanaka is a professor at Kyoto University in Japan, and also works at UCSF. He is also director of the Center for iPS Cell Research and Application (CiRA) and a prinicpal investigator at the Institute for Integrated Cell-Material Sciences (iCeMS), both at Kyoto.

Yamanaka has received numerous awards for his work with iPS cells, including the Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award, the Wolf Prize in Medicine, the Shaw Prize and the Kyoto Prize for Advanced Technology.

In 2011, Yamanaka was elected to the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, garnering one of the highest honors available for U.S. scientists and engineers. And in June, he won the Millennium Technology Award Grand Prize–the world’s largest and most prominent technology award–along with Linus Torvalds, the creator of Linux software.

While this year´s awardees of the Nobel Prize for Medicine are alive and doing well, the committee was left embarrassed after it awarded the 2011 Nobel Medicine award to Canadian scientist Ralph M Steinman, who unbeknownst to the committee died three days before the announcement.

This year´s Nobel awards will be revealed Friday in Oslo, and the Norwegian Nobel committee has 231 nominees to choose from this year.

One of biggest changes in this year´s awards is the prize amount; the prize is being slashed from around $1.5 million to about $1.2 million per award due to the economic crisis.

Below are a few interesting facts about the Nobel Prize for Medicine:

*199 people have been awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine since 1901.
*10 women have been awarded the Medicine Prize in its history.
*78 Nobel Laureates for the Medicine Prize have hailed from the United Kingdom–the most of any nation.
*The average age for a Nobel Medicine Prize Laureate is 57
*The youngest Nobel Medicine Prize Laureate was 32: Frederick G. Banting, awarded the Prize in 1923 for discovering insulin.


Source: Lawrence LeBlond for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online