British, Japanese share Nobel Prize for medicine

October 8, 2012 - 1:35 PM
Nobel Medicine

In this Monday, Oct. 8, 2012 photo combo, British scientist John Gurdon, left, speaks in London, and Japanese scientist Shinya Yamanaka, right, speaks in Kyoto after they were named winners of the 2012 Nobel Prize in medicine for discovering that mature, specialized cells of the body can be reprogrammed into stem cells — a discovery that scientists hope to turn into new treatments. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham, left; Kyodo News, right) JAPAN OUT, MANDATORY CREDIT, NO LICENSING IN CHINA, FRANCE, HONG KONG, JAPAN AND SOUTH KOREA

WHO WON?

Britain's John Gurdon, 79, formerly of Magdalene College of Cambridge University and currently with the Gurdon Institute that he founded, and Japan's Shinya Yamanaka, 50, who worked at the Gladstone Institute in San Francisco and Nara Institute of Science and Technology in Japan. He is now at Kyoto University.

FOR WHAT?

In 1962, the year Yamanaka was born, Gurdon showed that the DNA from specialized cells of frogs, like skin or intestinal cells, could be used to generate new tadpoles. In 2006, Yamanaka showed that mature cells could be turned back into primitive cells, which in turn could be prodded into different kinds of mature cells.

SIGNIFICANCE

The discoveries showed that the body's mature, specialized cells can be reprogrammed into stem cells — a discovery that scientists hope to turn into new treatments without destroying human embryos. Scientists want to harness the reprogramming to create replacement tissues for treating diseases such as Parkinson's, cystic fibrosis and diabetes and for studying the roots of diseases in the laboratory.

WHAT THEY SAID

Yamanaka: "We still have a lot of work to do on our research, so I was really surprised. I have two feelings, gratitude and also responsibility. Even though we have received this prize, we have not really accomplished what we need to. I feel a deep sense of duty and responsibility." Gurdon:

"It is particularly pleasing to see how purely basic research, originally aimed at testing the genetic identity of different cell types in the body, has turned out to have clear human health prospects."