Nobel Prize awarded for stem cell research

Published: 2012-10-08

This year’s Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine is awarded jointly to two scientists who discovered that mature, specialised cells capable of developing into all tissues of the body. This finding has revolutionised our understanding of how cells and organisms develop.


John B Gurdon discovered in 1962 that the specialisation 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.

More than 40 years later, Shinya Yamanaka discovered 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, ie immature cells that are able to develop into all types of cells in the body.

According to Karin Forsberg-Nilsson, professor of stem cell research at the Department of Immunology, Genetics and Pathology, the choice of laureates was not unexpected, even though Yamanaka’s research was done as recently as six years ago. Their names have been discussed for a couple of years.

‘The discovery that a mature cell can be reversed in its development and become a stem cell is a biological revolution. We have gained a completely different understanding of the development of mammals which opens for great opportunities to understand diseases and in the long-term to develop tailor-made treatments. But it is still far to early for treatments, there are too many questions that need answering first’, she says.

The field of research is hugely expansive. The possibility to take a cell from a patient with a genetic disease and turn it into a stem cell, to then study how it behaves when it develops into a mature cell will be a truly useful method for understanding how the disease arises. It is a way of going back through time and hopefully getting to see the moment when something went wrong in the cell.

Read more at the official web site of the Nobel Prize.