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 covering a wide variety of subjects, from the nature of the growing terror threat in Northern Africa to China’s crackdown on Tibet and the struggle over immigration reform in the United States. You can follow Jeff on Twitter at @jseldin or on Google Plus.

You May Like

Philippines, Muslim Rebels Try to Salvage Peace Pact

Peace process faces major setback after botched military operation to find terrorists results in bloody gunbattle between government forces, Moro Islamic Liberation Front fighters More

Republicans Expect Long, Expensive Presidential Battle

Political strategist says eventual winner will be one who can put together strongest coalition of various conservative groups that make up Republican Party More

Video New Wheelchair Is Easier to Use, Increases Mobility

Engineers have come up with a lever-operated design that makes use of easily accessible bicycle technology More

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.
Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grievingi
X
Benno Muchler
March 26, 2015 3:41 PM
Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video US, South Korea Conduct Joint Military Exercises

The Eighth U.S. Army Division and the Eighth Republic of Korea Mechanized Infantry Division put on a well orchestrated show of force for the media this week during their joint military training exercises in South Korea. VOA’s Seoul correspondent Brian Padden was there and reports the soldiers were well disciplined both in conducting a complex live fire exercise and in staying on message with the press.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Young Filmmakers Shine Spotlight on Giving Back

A group of student filmmakers from across the United States joined President Barack Obama at the White House this month for the second annual White House Student Film Festival. Fifteen short films were officially selected from more than 1,500 entries by students aged 6 through 18. The filmmakers and their families then joined the president and a group of celebrities for a screening of their films. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video VOA Exclusive: Interview with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, during his first visit as president to Washington, gave a one-on-one interview with VOA Afghan Service reporter Said Suleiman Ashna, about his request for a change in U.S. troop levels, the threat from the Islamic State, and repairing relations with the United States and Pakistan. The interview was held at Blair House, late Sunday, in Pashto.
Video

Video California Science Center Tells Story of Dead Sea Scrolls

The ancient manuscripts were uncovered in the mid-20th century, and they are still yielding clues about life and religious beliefs in ancient Israel. As VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports, an exhibit in Los Angeles shows how modern science is bringing the history of these ancient documents to life.
Video

Video Angelina Jolie Takes Another Bold Step

Hollywood actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie has revealed she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to lower her odds of getting cancer. Doctors say the huge publicity over her decision will help raise awareness about the importance of cancer screening. VOA’s George Putic has more

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More