Stem-cell pioneers win Nobel for medicine

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GENEVA — John B. Gurdon transferred DNA between a tadpole and a frog to cloned the first animal. Shinya Yamanaka used Gurdon’s concept to turn ordinary skin into potent stem cells. Both won the Nobel Prize for medicine today.

Gurdon, 79, of Britain, and Yamanaka, 50, of Japan, will share the $1.2 million prize, the Nobel Assembly said today in Stockholm. Their findings have led to “remarkable progress” in understanding diseases and finding new therapies, the assembly said in a statement.

Gurdon’s work paved the way in 1996 for the cloning of Dolly the sheep and, 10 years later, for Yamanaka’s research. By adding the right genes to an adult skin cell, Yamanaka developed a technology to create stem cells without destroying human embryos.

The discovery was lauded by some politicians and religious figures as a more ethical way to make stem cells.

“John B. Gurdon challenged the dogma that the specialized cell is irreversibly committed to its fate,” the assembly said. “Shinya Yamanaka discovered more than 40 years later, in 2006, how intact mature cells in mice could be reprogrammed to become immature stem cells. Textbooks have been rewritten, and new research fields have been established.”

Stem cells are found in human embryos and in some tissues and organs of adults, and have the potential to develop into different types of cells. That’s spurred scientists to look at ways of harnessing their power to treat diseases such as Alzheimer’s, stroke, diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis, according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

Annual prizes for achievements in physics, chemistry, medicine, peace and literature were established in the will of Alfred Nobel, the Swedish inventor of dynamite, who died in 1896. The Nobel Foundation was established in 1900 and the prizes were first handed out the following year.

The Nobel Prize in Physics will be announced Tuesday.

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