This week two scientists have received the Nobel Prize for their work on a study which has adult cells transformed back into embryo-like stem cells. This work may one day have us able to continue the work currently being done on stem cells (regrowing tissue in damaged organs, for example), with cells from adults rather than from embryos. John Gurdon, 79, of the Gurdon Institute in Cambridge, Britain and Shinya Yamanaka, 50, of Kyoto University in Japan will be sharing the $1.2 million included with the Nobel Prize for Medicine.
This work was started 50 years ago by Gurdon and was complimented by a 2006 experiment by Yamanaka which searched for ways to cure disease by growing healthy tissue. With “regenerative medicine” we’ll be able to cure ourselves with ourselves, so to speak. The Nobel Assembly at Stockholm’s Karolinska Institute noted that “these groundbreaking discoveries have completely changed our view of the development and specialization of cells.”
Stem cell research has been marred by the controversial necessity for the cells to come from embryos – or what’s known as a fetus inside a woman’s womb. If the studies conducted by the scientists here are able to turn adult cells back into cells that regenerate like stem cells, the research would blossom at a rate that’s yet unknown.
Gurdon was the first scientist to clone an animal back in 1962 with the DNA from a tadpoles intestinal cell. In 2006, Yamanaka was able to produce mouse stem cells from an adult mouse’s skin cells with an insertion of a set of genes. Stem cells that come from adult cells such as these are known as “induced pluripotency stem cells” – aka iPS cells – and will quite likely be able to be both taken from and given back to the same adult. If this process is perfected, the body will be able to repair itself – so to speak – with just a bit of help from third party processes.
“The eventual aim is to provide replacement cells of all kinds. We would like to be able to find a way of obtaining spare heart or brain cells from skin or blood cells. The important point is that the replacement cells need to be from the same individual, to avoid problems of rejection and hence of the need for immunosuppression.” – Gurdon Institute
This work will continue on the part of both scientists and their teams while groups around the world use this situation as hope for the future. Nobel Committee member and professor of Molecular Development Biology at the Karolinska Institute Thomas Perlmann said Thanks to these two scientists, we know now that development is not strictly a one-way street. There is lot of promise and excitement, and difficult disorders such as neurodegenerative disorders, like perhaps Alzheimer’s and, more likely, Parkinson’s disease, are very interesting targets.”