The 2012 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine goes to John B. Gurdon of the Gurdon Institute in Cambridge and Shinya Yamanaka of Kyoto University in Japan for their work showing that specialized cells can be reprogrammed to undifferentiated cells, capable of developing into any cell type in the body, The Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Institute announced this morning (October 8) from Stockholm.
Gurdon, often referred to as “the godfather of cloning,” published a landmark 1962 study in Journal of Embryology and Experimental Morphology showing that replacing the nucleus of a frog’s egg with the nucleus from an adult frog cell resulted in a functional, cloned tadpole. The finding proved that adult cells maintain an ability to mediate embryonic development, despite having already reaching their developmental fate.
More than 40 years later, Shinya Yamanaka discovered that four genes are capable of reprogramming an adult mouse cell into a cell in an embryonic stem cell-like state—called an induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cell—which can differentiate into any cell type. The 2006 finding, published in Cell, provides researchers with the genetic recipe to generate iPS cells from mature cells in mice and humans.
Gurdon and Yamanka’s discoveries offer new tools for scientists studying disease. Scientists have now generated human iPS cell models to better understand disease development and explore new medical therapies.