Whitehead Member Rudolf Jaenisch Honored for Groundbreaking Stem Cell Research
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Jaenisch will share this year’s prize with Kyoto University’s Shinya Yamanaka for what the Wolf Foundation describes as “their groundbreaking contribution to stem cell research.”
Yamanaka is being recognized for his 2006 experiments showing that four genes inserted into mouse skin cells can confer on the cells the properties of embryonic stem cells-including pluripotency, or the ability to differentiate into virtually any mammalian cell type. Yamanaka’s work, the generation of so-called induced pluripotent stem cells, or iPS cells, ushered in a new area of cellular reprogramming.
The following year, Jaenisch advanced Yamanaka’s work with the first experiments to demonstrate the therapeutic potential of iPS cells. Jaenisch reprogrammed mouse skin cells into iPS cells, corrected a genetic defect in the cells, and then used the cells to cure a mouse model of sickle-cell anemia. He later used a similar approach to treat a model of Parkinson’s disease in rats.
In announcing this year’s award, the Wolf Prize Committee stated: “Collectively, the groundbreaking contributions by Dr. Yamanka and Dr. Jaenisch form the basis for work on regenerative medicine currently performed in hundreds of laboratories around the world.”
“I’m really very, very honored by this,” says Jaenisch. “To be recognized with Shinya Yamanaka in this way is just incredibly gratifying.”
The Wolf Prize in Medicine is the third significant honor Jaenisch and Yamanaka have shared in recent years. In late 2008, both were named recipients of the Meira and Shaul G. Massry Prize, and this spring, both will receive the Warren Triennial Prize from Massachusetts General Hospital. For Whitehead Institute Director David Page, such recognition for his long-time colleague hardly comes as a surprise.
“This latest honor for Rudolf is further validation of his pioneering work in cellular reprogramming,” Page says. “Rudolf has consistently led the way in applying novel techniques in this arena to the treatment of human disease. He’s more than deserving of these accolades.”
The Israel-based Wolf Foundation, established by the late German-born inventor, diplomat and philanthropist, Dr. Ricardo Wolf, has awarded five Wolf Prizes annually since 1978 to outstanding scientists and artists “for achievements in the interest of mankind and friendly relations among peoples, irrespective of nationality, race, color, religion, sex, or political view.”
“"In the 33 years of its existence, the Wolf Prize has brought great honor to the State of Israel and to scientific activity both in Israel and worldwide," says Minister of Education and Wolf Foundation Council Chairman, Mr. Gideon Sa'ar.
“Moreover, the prize has become a predictor of the Nobel: one out of every three Wolf Prize Laureates-in Chemistry, Physics and Medicine-has gone on to receive the Nobel Prize.”
Jaenisch and Yamanaka will share the $100,000 prize, which will be awarded by the President of the State of Israel and by the Minister of Education, at a special ceremony at the Knesset at the end of May.
Jaenisch is the second Whitehead Member to receive the Wolf Prize in Medicine. Founding Member Robert Weinberg was so honored in 2004 for his work in tumor genetics.
Rudolf Jaenisch’s primary affiliation is with Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, where his laboratory is located and all his research is conducted. He is also a professor of biology at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.