Nobel Prize Awarded for Breakthrough Discovery

Kaylyn Boccia, Staff Writer

The Nobel Prize is a set of annual international awards bestowed in recognition of cultural and/or scientific advances and achievements. The five categories for the prizes are in physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature, and peace. On Monday last week, the Nobel Prize for physiology or medicine was awarded jointly to two men whose work has revolutionized the understanding of how cells and organisms develop.

One of the recipients, Sir John B. Gurdon’s, performed an experiment in 1962 involving a frog, more specifically, a frog’s egg cell. By replacing the egg cell’s nucleus with the nucleus from a mature, specialized cell derived from the intestine of a tadpole, the egg managed to develop into a fully functional, cloned tadpole. The other recipient, Shinya Yamanaka, headed research concerning embryonic stem cells. Yamanaka tried to find the genes that kept stem cells in their “blank” state. After several experiments by Yamanaka and his co-workers, they discovered a combination of genes that actually reprogramed their sample mature cells into immature stem cells. The resulting stem cells, dubbed induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells) were shown to be able to develop into several mature cell types such as fibroblasts, nerve cells and gut cells and forever shattered the notion that mature cells are confined forever to their specialized states.

The idea of taking cells and reprogramming them sounds like something straight out of science fiction, but the two men’s discoveries combined offer a plethora of medical possibilities. Imagine being able to replace the lost cells of a person suffering from Parkinson’s disease by having personal iPS cells created from their blood or to regenerate cells lost from cancer chemotherapy. The work of these two men will certainly earn them a place in the medical history books as well as open an infinite amount of doors for the medical treatment and therapy plane.

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