News / Europe

    Briton, Japanese Share Nobel Prize for Medicine

    A combination of two recent pictures shows at Left John Gurdon of Britain and at Right Shinya Yamanaka of Japan, who both won the Nobel Prize on October 8, 2012 for work in cell programming.
    A combination of two recent pictures shows at Left John Gurdon of Britain and at Right Shinya Yamanaka of Japan, who both won the Nobel Prize on October 8, 2012 for work in cell programming.
    Two discoveries over the course of more than 40 years are now getting credit for revolutionizing the way scientists look at saving and creating life.

    The Nobel Prize committee Monday awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine to Britain's John Gurdon and Japan's Shinya Yamanaka for those discoveries in their work with cells, often called the building blocks of life.


    First Gurdon and then Yamanaka showed that mature, specialized cells could be reprogrammed, causing them to revert to an immature, embryonic state and then turned into a different type of specialized cell.

    John Gurdon
    • Born in Dippenhall, Britain in 1933
    • Received Doctorate from University of Oxford in 1960
    • Postdoctoral fellow at California Institute of Technology
    • Discovered in 1962 that specialization of cells is reversible
    • Joined Cambridge University in 1972

    Shinya Yamanaka
    • Born in Osaka, Japan in 1962
    • Received MD from Kobe University in 1987
    • Received PhD from Osaka City University in 1993
    • Discovered in 2006 how intact mature cells could be reprogrammed to become immature stem cells
    • Currently a professor at Kyoto University
    The implications are enormous, allowing researchers to work on technology that could one day allow doctors to fight disease by regrowing tissue in damaged brains, hearts or other organs.

    "This year's Nobel Prize awards a discovery that has changed the way we understand how cells in the body become specialized," said Thomas Perlmann, Professor of Molecular Development Biology of the Karolinska Institute in Sweden.  "It has provided entirely new tools for effective development of drugs and new therapies."

    Until recently, many scientists thought the only viable way to do this was to use embryonic human stem cells, which involved the destruction of a human embryo.  The discoveries also set the stage for work on advanced cloning techniques and other technologies involved in creating life itself.

    "This brings me great joy, but at the same time I feel a great sense of responsibility," said Yamanaka, now at Japan's Kyoto University. "Stem cell research is still a very new field.''

    Theoretical beginnings

    Gurdon's work in 1962 was the first, critical step in demonstrating the process of cell specialization was not set in stone, as long thought.

    Using frogs, Gurdon took the immature nucleus out of an egg cell and replaced it with the nucleus from a cell taken from a frog's intestine.  Despite the switch, the modified egg cell still developed into a normal tadpole.  

    The discovery showed that even mature, specialized cells had all the information required to change, first into stem cells and then into numerous different types of cells.  
    At the time, not even Gurdon, now at the Gurdon Institute in Cambridge in Britain, realized how important the discovery would be.

    "This work I was involved in had no obvious therapeutic benefit at all," he said. "It was kind of purely a scientific question:  Do all our cells have the same genes?  There was no prospect of that being useful to people."

    It was a theoretical breakthrough, but just what exactly allowed specialized cells to transform remained a mystery.

    Unlocking the key

    The question lingered for more than 40 years.  Then, in 2006, Shinya Yamanaka uncovered the mechanism, tracing the transformation to four specific genes.  

    Yamanaka took skin cells from adult mice and found by simply introducing a combination of four genes, he and his colleagues could essentially turn back time, transforming a mature, adult skin cell into a stem cell like state.

    "The reality is that both medicine and drug research has such great potential," he said. "We have not even really begun to explore all the possibilities in medical and pharmaceutical development."

    Jeff Seldin

    Jeff works out of VOA’s Washington headquarters and is national security correspondent. You can follow Jeff on Twitter at @jseldin or on Google Plus.

    You May Like

    Video Rubio Looks to Surge in New Hampshire

    Republican presidential candidate has moved into second place in several recent surveys and appears to be gaining ground on longtime frontrunner Donald Trump

    UN Calls for Global Ban on Female Genital Mutilation

    Recent UNICEF report finds at least 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone female genital mutilation in 30 countries

    UN Pilots New Peace Approach in CAR

    Approach launched in northern town of Kaga Bandoro, where former combatants of mainly Muslim Seleka armed group and Christian and animist anti-Balaka movement are being paid to do community work

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: Daniel from: Ethiopia
    October 10, 2012 6:12 AM
    I am 34 year old IT professional. I listen to VOA Amharic since childhood. Every broadcast, every discussion and every activity this station is unfair, unbalanced and biased. It does not do any good for our country. Rather, it is making the prevalence of peace very very difficult. Please do something about it. It is preaching war and hatred among Ethiopians. And now, they are instigating radicalism in Ethiopia by broadcasting the moto of Islamic radicals. Please America we beg you not to do what you do not want to happen to you.

    by: Samurai from: Japan
    October 09, 2012 3:18 AM
    Congratulations on receiving the great prize! Dr. Yamanaka gave a good evidence of Japanese nationals' contribution to happiness of global people.

    by: Yoshi from: Sapporo
    October 08, 2012 7:38 PM
    Congratulations for two winners. I'm proud of Dr. Yamanaka as one of Japanese. Hope struggling people with intractable diseases could be cured around the world.

    by: shibin from: kannu
    October 08, 2012 3:28 PM

    Here is a simple, non-technical explanation on the basics on which the Nobel Prize winning work is based on.
    http://wp.me/p1z4hZ-d6
    Please do read and leave your opinion! TY

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibiti
    X
    Hamada Elsaram
    February 05, 2016 4:30 PM
    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video Former Drug CEO Martin Shkreli Angers US Lawmakers

    A former U.S. pharmaceutical business executive has angered lawmakers by refusing to explain why he raised the price of a life-saving pill by 5,000 percent. Martin Shkreli was removed from a congressional hearing on Thursday after citing his Fifth Amendment right to stay silent. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Super Bowl TV Commercials are Super Business for Advertisers

    The Super Bowl, the championship clash between the two top teams in American Football, is the most-watched sporting event of the year, and advertisers are lining up and paying big bucks to get their commercials on the air. In fact, the TV commercials during the Super Bowl have become one of the most anticipated and popular features of the event. VOA's Brian Allen has a sneak peek of what you can expect to see when the big game goes to commercial break, and the real entertainment begins.
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.
    Video

    Video Microcephaly's Connection to Zika: Guilty Until Proven Innocent

    The Zika virus rarely causes problems for the people who get it, but it seems to be having a devastating impact on babies whose mothers are infected with Zika. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
    Video

    Video Solar Innovation Provides Cheap, Clean Energy to Kenya Residents

    In Kenya, a company called M-Kopa Solar is providing clean energy to more than 300,000 homes across East Africa by allowing customers to "pay-as-you-go" via their cell phones. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from Kangemi, customers pay a small deposit for a solar unit and then pay less than a dollar a day to get clean energy to light up their homes or businesses.
    Video

    Video Stunning Artworks Attract Record Crowds, Thanks to Social Media

    A new exhibit at the oldest art museum in America is shattering attendance records. Thousands of visitors are lining up to see nine giant works of art that have gotten a much-deserved shot of viral marketing. The 150-year-old Smithsonian American Art Museum has never had a response quite like this. VOA's Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Apprenticeships Put Americans on Path Back to Work

    Trying to get more people into the U.S. workforce, the Obama administration last year announced $175 million in grants towards apprenticeship programs. VOA White House correspondent Aru Pande went inside one training center outside of Washington that has gained national recognition for helping put people on the path to employment.
    Video

    Video New Material May Reduce Concussion Effects

    As the 2016 National Football League season reaches its summit at the Super Bowl this coming Sunday (2/7), scientists are trying to learn how to more effectively protect football players from dangerous and damaging concussions. Researchers at Cardiff and Cambridge Universities say their origami-based material may solve the problem. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Saudi Arabian Women's Sports Chip Away at Stereotypes

    Saudi Arabian female athletes say that sports are on the front line of busting traditions that quash women’s voices, both locally and internationally. In their hometown of Jeddah, a group of basketball players say that by connecting sports to health issues, they are encouraging women and girls to get out of their homes and participate in public life. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.
    Video

    Video A Year Later, Fortunes Mixed for Syrians Forging New Lives in Berlin

    In April of last year, VOA followed the progress of six young Syrian refugees -- four brothers and their two friends -- as they made their way from Libya to Italy by boat, and eventually to Germany. Reporter Henry Ridgwell caught up with the refugees again in Berlin, as they struggle to forge new lives amid the turmoil of Europe's refugee crisis.
    Video

    Video Zika Virus May be Hard to Stop

    With the Zika virus spreading rapidly, the World Health Organization Monday declared Zika a global health emergency. As Alberto Pimienta reports, for many governments and experts, the worst is yet to come.