The 2012 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded jointly to John B. Gurdon of the University of Cambridge in England and Shinya Yamanaka of Kyoto University in Japan for the discovery that mature cells can be reprogrammed to become pluripotent. The Nobel committee thus recognized two scientists who discovered that mature, specialized cells can be reprogrammed to become immature cells capable of developing into all tissues of the body. Both scientists, working decades apart, made discoveries that added significantly to scientists’ understanding of cellular differentiation and have had a great impact on techniques for the generation of stem cells.
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. In essence, Dr. Gurdon was the first to clone an animal.
Yamanaka discovered more than 40 years later, in 2006, how intact mature cells in mice could be reprogrammed to become immature stem cells. 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. Learn more from the press release of The Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Institutet.