Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Nobel Prize for Medicine Awarded for Stem Cell Discoveries

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Nobel Prize for Medicine Awarded for Stem Cell Discoveries

Article excerpt

British scientist Sir John Gurdon and Japan's Shinya Yamanaka shared the 2012 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine Monday for experiments separated by almost 50 years that provide deep insight into how animals develop and offer hope for a new era of personalized medicine.

"Their findings have revolutionized our understanding of how cells and organisms develop," the Nobel committee said in the prize announcement.

In 1962, Sir John wowed the world of biology by cloning a frog via a clever technique. He transplanted the genetic material from an intestinal cell of one frog into an egg cell from another. The egg developed into a tadpole, showing that ordinary cells contain the entire genetic instruction manual for whole organism.

The experiment -- which other scientists were slow to accept as valid -- led in 1997 to the cloning of the first mammal, Dolly the sheep. Since then, scientists have cloned mice, dogs, cats, pigs, horses and cattle, although multiple attempts to clone monkeys have failed, as have attempts to produce cloned human embryos. Cloned mice have become laboratory mainstays.

Sir John, 79, is a Cambridge University emeritus professor who still conducts research at an institute there bearing his name and was knighted in 1995 for his work in developmental biology. His frog experiments a half-century ago showed that scientists "should be able to derive any one kind of cell from another, because they've all got the same genes," he said Monday at a London news briefing.

In 2006 and 2007, Dr. Yamanaka, a physician and stem-cell researcher, extended this insight by turning back time on individual cells from both mice and humans. By sprinkling four genes on ordinary skin cells, Dr. Yamanaka discovered a virtual fountain of youth: Any cell, he found, could be reverted to an early embryonic state.

These "induced" embryonic cells behave much like the ethically contentious stem cells gleaned from human embryos. Like embryonic cells, they can be grown into many other types of tissues, but without having to destroy any embryos. …

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