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Stem Cell Expert Tops Research Hot List

March 15, 2010

Groundbreaking stem cell researcher Rudolf Jaenisch has been named the “hottest” researcher in the world, topping a list released Monday by Thomson Reuters’ Science Watch.

Jaenisch, who was born in Wölfelsgrund, Germany in 1942, is a biochemistry professor at MIT’s Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research and an expert in the field of transgenics. According to a Thomson Reuters press release, “his research investigates reprogrammed fibroblast cells in models of Parkinson’s disease, sickle-cell anemia and other conditions.”

Jaenisch also was the first scientist to show that therapeutic cloning could correct genetic defects in mice. He created the first transgenic animal model, and works with embryonic stem cells and induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells), which are new cells made out of skin cells.

According to his biography at the Whitehead Institute website, “In 2007, the Jaenisch lab was one of three labs worldwide that reported successfully taking cells from mouse tails and reprogramming them into IPS cells, by over-expressing four master gene regulators. Later that year, the lab followed up by further manipulating IPS cells to treat sickle-cell anemia in mice, the first proof in principle of therapeutic use of such cells.”

“In 2008, the lab reported that neurons derived from IPS cells successfully integrated into fetal mouse brains and reduced symptoms in a Parkinson’s disease rat model. In another experiment, researchers demonstrated that fully mature, differentiated mouse B cells can be reprogrammed to IPS cells,” the Jaenisch biography adds.

The MIT professor is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the Institute of Medicine, as well as a fellow at the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and an award-winning researcher. In 1996, he was awarded Boehringer Mannheim Molecular Bioanalytics Prize. In 2001, he won the Peter Gruber Foundation Award in Genetics. In 2002, Jaenisch earned the Robert Koch Prize for Excellence in Scientific Achievement, then the following year he was presented with the Brupracher Foundation Cancer Award. Then in 2007, he won the Vilcek Prize for biomedical science.

The Thomson Reuters’ Science Watch hot list is compiled by determining which researchers had authored papers that were the most frequently cited by their peers. Jaenisch authored 14 of these papers to earn the top spot, followed by genetics experts Mark J. Daly and David Altshuler of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard and materials professor Andre K. Gelm of the University of Manchester with 13 each.

The significance of the list shouldn’t be understated, according to Thomson Reuters’ David Pendelbury. As he told Reuters Health and Science Editor Maggie Fox during a telephone interview on Monday, “Many of the people featured” on the annual research hotlist “over the last decade are people that I would put money on to eventually win a Nobel Prize.”

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