Scientists Win Nobel Prize for Stem-Cell Work
John B. Gurdon of the U.K. and Shinya Yamanaka of Japan shared this year’s Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their work in so-called cellular reprogramming, which has unleashed a wave of advances in everything from cloning to the possible treatment of diseases using stem cells. The researchers’ experiments showed how specialized, mature cells could be returned to a embryonic-like state, and then be coaxed into becoming all other cells of the body.
The ability to pull off this trick—the biological equivalent of turning back time—ranks as one of the more head-spinning feats of modern science. It has triggered the rewriting of biology textbooks and given birth to new areas of research. Without this discovery, known as cellular reprogramming, Dolly the sheep and all later cloning experiments would not have been possible. It also allows scientists to create human embryonic stem cells without having to destroy human embryos, sidestepping an approach that has long been fraught with ethical controversies. Most important, perhaps, it has significantly advanced the prospect of using a patient’s own mature cells to create fresh tissue and treat disease.