Corporate Banner
Satellite Banner
Scientific Communities
Become a Member | Sign in
Home>News>This Article

The 2012 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine

Published: Tuesday, October 09, 2012
Last Updated: Monday, October 08, 2012
Bookmark and Share
The Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Institutet has decided to award the Nobel Prize jointly to John B. Gurdon and Shinya Yamanaka for the discovery that mature cells can be reprogrammed to become pluripotent.

The Nobel Prize recognizes two scientists who discovered that mature, specialized cells can be reprogrammed to become immature cells capable of developing into all tissues of the body. Their findings have revolutionized our understanding of how cells and organisms develop.

John B. Gurdon discovered in 1962 that the specialization of cells is reversible. In a classic experiment, he replaced the immature cell nucleus in an egg cell of a frog with the nucleus from a mature intestinal cell.

This modified egg cell developed into a normal tadpole. The DNA of the mature cell still had all the information needed to develop all cells in the frog.

Shinya Yamanaka discovered more than 40 years later, in 2006, how intact mature cells in mice could be reprogrammed to become immature stem cells.

Surprisingly, by introducing only a few genes, he could reprogram mature cells to become pluripotent stem cells, i.e. immature cells that are able to develop into all types of cells in the body.

These discoveries have completely changed our view of the development and cellular specialization. We now understand that the mature cell does not have to be confined forever to its specialized state.

Textbooks have been rewritten and new research fields have been established. By reprogramming human cells, scientists have created new opportunities to study diseases and develop methods for diagnosis and therapy.

Life - a journey towards increasing specialization
All of us developed from fertilized egg cells. During the first days after conception, the embryo consists of immature cells, each of which is capable of developing into all the cell types that form the adult organism.

Such cells are called pluripotent stem cells. With further development of the embryo, these cells give rise to nerve cells, muscle cells, liver cells and all other cell types - each of them specialized to carry out a specific task in the adult body.

This journey from immature to specialized cell was previously considered to be unidirectional. It was thought that the cell changes in such a way during maturation that it would no longer be possible for it to return to an immature, pluripotent stage.

Frogs jump backwards in development
John B. Gurdon challenged the dogma that the specialized cell is irreversibly committed to its fate. He hypothesized that its genome might still contain all the information needed to drive its development into all the different cell types of an organism.

In 1962, he tested this hypothesis by replacing the cell nucleus of a frog´s egg cell with a nucleus from a mature, specialized cell derived from the intestine of a tadpole.

The egg developed into a fully functional, cloned tadpole and subsequent repeats of the experiment yielded adult frogs.

The nucleus of the mature cell had not lost its capacity to drive development to a fully functional organism.

Gurdon´s landmark discovery was initially met with scepticism but became accepted when it had been confirmed by other scientists. It initiated intense research and the technique was further developed, leading eventually to the cloning of mammals.

Gurdon´s research taught us that the nucleus of a mature, specialized cell can be returned to an immature, pluripotent state. But his experiment involved the removal of cell nuclei with pipettes followed by their introduction into other cells. Would it ever be possible to turn an intact cell back into a pluripotent stem cell?

A roundtrip journey - mature cells return to a stem cell state
Shinya Yamanaka was able to answer this question in a scientific breakthrough more than 40 years after Gurdon´s discovery. His research concerned embryonal stem cells, i.e. pluripotent stem cells that are isolated from the embryo and cultured in the laboratory.

Such stem cells were initially isolated from mice by Martin Evans (Nobel Prize 2007) and Yamanaka tried to find the genes that kept them immature. When several of these genes had been identified, he tested whether any of them could reprogram mature cells to become pluripotent stem cells.

Yamanaka and his co-workers introduced these genes, in different combinations, into mature cells from connective tissue, fibroblasts, and examined the results under the microscope. They finally found a combination that worked, and the recipe was surprisingly simple. By introducing four genes together, they could reprogram their fibroblasts into immature stem cells!

The resulting induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells) could develop into mature cell types such as fibroblasts, nerve cells and gut cells.

The discovery that intact, mature cells could be reprogrammed into pluripotent stem cells was published in 2006 and was immediately considered a major breakthrough.

From surprising discovery to medical use
The discoveries of Gurdon and Yamanaka have shown that specialized cells can turn back the developmental clock under certain circumstances.

Although their genome undergoes modifications during development, these modifications are not irreversible. We have obtained a new view of the development of cells and organisms.

Research during recent years has shown that iPS cells can give rise to all the different cell types of the body. These discoveries have also provided new tools for scientists around the world and led to remarkable progress in many areas of medicine. iPS cells can also be prepared from human cells.

For instance, skin cells can be obtained from patients with various diseases, reprogrammed, and examined in the laboratory to determine how they differ from cells of healthy individuals. Such cells constitute invaluable tools for understanding disease mechanisms and so provide new opportunities to develop medical therapies.

Sir John B. Gurdon was born in 1933 in Dippenhall, UK. He received his Doctorate from the University of Oxford in 1960 and was a postdoctoral fellow at California Institute of Technology.

He joined Cambridge University, UK, in 1972 and has served as Professor of Cell Biology and Master of Magdalene College. Gurdon is currently at the Gurdon Institute in Cambridge.

Shinya Yamanaka was born in Osaka, Japan in 1962. He obtained his MD in 1987 at Kobe University and trained as an orthopaedic surgeon before switching to basic research.

Yamanaka received his PhD at Osaka University in 1993, after which he worked at the Gladstone Institute in San Francisco and Nara Institute of Science and Technology in Japan. Yamanaka is currently Professor at Kyoto University and also affiliated with the Gladstone Institute.

Further Information
Access to this exclusive content is for Technology Networks Premium members only.

Join Technology Networks Premium for free access to:

  • Exclusive articles
  • Presentations from international conferences
  • Over 2,800+ scientific posters on ePosters
  • More Than 4,000+ scientific videos on LabTube
  • 35 community eNewsletters

Sign In

Forgotten your details? Click Here
If you are not a member you can join here

*Please note: By logging into you agree to accept the use of cookies. To find out more about the cookies we use and how to delete them, see our privacy policy.

Related Content

Complex Grammar of the Genomic Language
A new study from Karolinska Institutet shows that the ‘grammar’ of the human genetic code is more complex than that of even the most intricately constructed spoken languages in the world.
Thursday, November 12, 2015
New Mechanism Discovered Behind Infant Epilepsy
Scientists at Karolinska Institutet and Karolinska University Hospital have discovered a new explanation for severe early infant epilepsy.
Monday, September 07, 2015
Stem Cells from Nerves Forming Teeth
Findings published in the scientific journal Nature.
Wednesday, July 30, 2014
Different Cell Mechanisms Behind Regenerated Limbs
Scientists at Karolinska Institutet have discovered that two separate species of salamander differ in the way their muscles grow back in lost body parts.
Tuesday, November 26, 2013
New European Vaccine Initiative
Leading organisations have joined forces to rapidly assess and communicate the benefits and risks of vaccines.
Tuesday, November 26, 2013
Synthetic mRNA can Induce Self-Repair and Regeneration of the Infarcted Heart
A team of scientists has instructing injured hearts in mice to heal by expressing a factor that triggers cardiovascular regeneration driven by native heart stem cells.
Monday, September 16, 2013
Technological Breakthrough Paves the Way for Better Drugs
Researchers have developed the first method for directly measuring the extent to which drugs reach their targets in the cell.
Monday, July 08, 2013
Possible Goal for New Tuberculosis-Vaccine Identified
A new study shows for the first time the essential role of the molecule SOCS3 in the control of Tuberculosis.
Monday, July 08, 2013
Trackable Drug-Filled Nanoparticles - a Potential Weapon against Cancer
Tiny particles filled with a drug could be a new tool for treating cancer in the future.
Monday, March 04, 2013
Learning the Alphabet of Controlling Gene Expression
Scientists at Karolinska Institutet have made a large step towards the understanding of how human genes are regulated.
Monday, January 21, 2013
New Hope for Setback-dogged Cancer Treatment
Researchers at Karolinska Institutet announce breakthrough in the study of how IGF-1 receptor-binding antibodies can help those with cancer.
Wednesday, November 28, 2012
Possible New Therapy for the Treatment of a Common Blood Cancer
Research from Karolinska Institutet shows that sorafenib, a drug used for advanced cancer of the kidneys and liver, could also be effective against multiple myeloma.
Friday, September 07, 2012
New Findings on the Formation of Body Pigment
The skin's pigment cells can be formed from completely different cells than has hitherto been thought, a new study from the Swedish medical university Karolinska Institutet shows. The results, which are published in the journal Cell, also mean the discovery of a new kind of stem cell.
Thursday, October 22, 2009
Cell-IQ® Cell Imaging System Aids Fertility Research at Karolinska
Cell-IQ® platform helps investigate mechanisms of infertility and oocyte maturation, and for characterization of human embryonic stem cell lines.
Thursday, July 09, 2009
Identical Twins Not as Identical as Believed
The finding published by American, Swedish, and Dutch scientists may be of great significance for research on hereditary diseases and for the development of new diagnostic methods.
Tuesday, February 19, 2008
Scientific News
High Throughput Mass Spectrometry-Based Screening Assay Trends
Dr John Comley provides an insight into HT MS-based screening with a focus on future user requirements and preferences.
How a Genetic Locus Protects Adult Blood-Forming Stem Cells
Mammalian imprinted Gtl2 protects adult hematopoietic stem cells by restricting metabolic activity in the cells' mitochondria.
Genetic Basis of Fatal Flu Side Effect Discovered
A group of people with fatal H1N1 flu died after their viral infections triggered a deadly hyperinflammatory disorder in susceptible individuals with gene mutations linked to the overactive immune response, according to a recent study.
New Tech Vastly Improves CRISPR/Cas9 Accuracy
A new CRISPR/Cas9 technology developed by scientists at UMass Medical School is precise enough to surgically edit DNA at nearly any genomic location, while avoiding potentially harmful off-target changes typically seen in standard CRISPR gene editing techniques.
The MaxSignal Colistin ELISA Test Kit from Bioo Scientific
Kit can help prevent the antibiotic apocalypse by keeping last resort drugs out of the food supply.
"Good" Mozzie Virus Might Hold Key to Fighting Human Disease
Australian scientists have discovered a new virus carried by one of the country’s most common pest mosquitoes.
Non-Disease Proteins Kill Brain Cells
Scientists at the forefront of cutting-edge research into neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s have shown that the mere presence of protein aggregates may be as important as their form and identity in inducing cell death in brain tissue.
Closing the Loop on an HIV Escape Mechanism
Research team finds that protein motions regulate virus infectivity.
New Class of RNA Tumor Suppressors Identified
Two short, “housekeeping” RNA molecules block cancer growth by binding to an important cancer-associated protein called KRAS. More than a quarter of all human cancers are missing these RNAs.
Potential Treatment for Life-Threatening Viral Infections Revealed
The findings point to new therapies for Dengue, West Nile and Ebola.
Scroll Up
Scroll Down
Skyscraper Banner

Skyscraper Banner
Go to LabTube
Go to eposters
Access to the latest scientific news
Exclusive articles
Upload and share your posters on ePosters
Latest presentations and webinars
View a library of 1,800+ scientific and medical posters
2,800+ scientific and medical posters
A library of 2,500+ scientific videos on LabTube
4,000+ scientific videos