Nobel Prize goes to stem cell pioneers John B. Gurdon and Shinya Yamanaka

Researchers John B. Gurdon and Shinya Yamanaka have been awarded this year's Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for work that has revolutionised cell biology. The Nobel Prize committee awarded the prize, "for the discovery that mature cells can be reprogrammed to become pluripotent". Read more to see the delighted reactions of scientists and others.

Sir John B. Gurdon

In 1962, John B. Gurdon successfully cloned frogs. He took the nucleus of an adult frog cell - the part of the cell that holds the DNA - and put it into a frog egg cell. The egg was able to develop into a normal tadpole. These experiments showed that an adult, specialised cell still had the information needed to form a new tadpole. The same technique was later used to produce the famous cloned sheep, Dolly.

In 2006, Shinya Yamanaka's work again took the scientific community by surprise and changed the way researchers think about how cells develop.Yamanaka showed that adult, fully specialised mouse cells could be reprogrammed to become cells that behave like embryonic stem cells - so-called induced pluripotent stem cells, which can develop into all types of cells in the body.


Shinya Yamanaka

Stem cell scientists and others have reacted with delight at the award of the Nobel Prize to these pioneering biologists, acknowledging the impact their work has had on research:

Clare Blackburn, EuroStemCell Coordinator and Professor at our coordinating partner centre, University of Edinburgh's MRC Centre for Regenerative Medicine, said, "The work of John Gurdon and Shinya Yamanaka has been transformative. We are so delighted to hear this news."

Ian Chambers, Professor of Pluripotent Stem Cell Biology at the University of Edinburgh MRC Centre for Regenererative Medicine, commented, "The widespread opinion amongst many scientists, including other Nobel laureates, was that Shinya Yamanaka's approach was doomed to fail. Both Shinya and John deserve our hearty congratulations for overturning our understanding of cell identity by fearless and audacious experimentation."

EuroStemCell partner Thomas Graf, who is Professor at the Center for Genomic Regulation in Barcelona agreed that the work of these two scientists has transformed the field. He said, "Gurdon's and Yamanaka's discoveries have deeply transformed the way we are thinking about how our bodies develop and revolutionized biomedical research."

Gurdon and Yamanaka's work is celebrated and explained in the award-winning documentary, Stem Cell Revolutions, by Clare Blackburn and Amy Hardie. The short clip above is taken from the film and links Gurdon and Yamanaka's work (click the red button on the image above to watch the clip). Amy Hardie, who directed the film, commented: "So many scientists have said that Shinya Yamanaka has overturned our understanding of basic developmental biology. And he has – with the discovery of iPS cells. What Shinya Yamanaka himself points out and we were able to show in our film, Stem Cell Revolutions, is the lineage from John Gurdon who cloned frogs in Cambridge. Shinya's groundbreaking discovery would not have been possible without Gurdon's pioneering work. This is a Nobel Prize that celebrates both how science progresses from generation to generation and how individual scientists with one experiment can overturn knowledge that had been enshrined in biology textbook for years. It's been an honour to have been granted the access to both John Gurdon and Shinya Yamanaka and to have them generously explain their groundbreaking innovations in language a non-scientist can understand." 

Meanwhile, Giulio CossuCoordinator of the EU-funded stem cell research project OptiStem and partner in EuroStemCell, told us: "This is fantastic news for the field and for medicine in general. The prize is absolutely deserved by John Gurdon who has pioneered the concept of 'reprogramming' and Sinha Yamanaka who has unraveled the molecular mechanism of it."

Further reactions to the Prize announcement

Prof Sir Ian Wilmut, who led the work on Dolly the Sheep, added: "Many congratulations to Shinya Yamanaka and John Gurdon for the award of the Nobel Prize. I am delighted that the committee has recognised their important and innovative work on cellular reprogramming and its importance for regenerative medicine."

Professor Frank Barry is Director of the National Centre for Biomedical Engineering Science (NCBES) at the National University of Ireland in Galway and is Scientific Director of EuroStemCell's Partner REMEDI (the University’s Regenerative Medicine Institute). On hearing the news, Barry said, "The discoveries made by these two scientists, although many years apart, both changed the way we think about cells and how they regulate their behaviour. The discovery of methods in cell reprogramming, in particular, has had a huge impact. It has given us extraordinary new insight into what stem cells are and how they work.  It has also given us powerful new tools to study human development and what causes certain diseases.  We at REMEDI send our heartfelt congratulations to Drs. Gurdon and Yamanaka.  The award of the Nobel Prize in Medicine to them is richly deserved.”

Prof Charles ffrench-Constant, Director of the MRC Centre for Regenerative Medicine at the University of Edinburgh agreed: "I am absolutely delighted that the opportunities offered by the spectacular scientific advance of cellular reprogramming have been recognised by the Nobel Prize committee. I offer Shinya and John well deserved congratulations."

Prof Sanbing Shen of REMEDI, National University of Ireland Galway, Ireland said, "These exciting discoveries have opened a new era of regenerative medicine."

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