Current Events Medical Studies

Nobel Prize in Medicine, 2012

When cells become specialized cells (e.g., blood cells, bone cells, sex cells), are these cells fixed and immutable?  In the past, researchers though the answer was yes.  It turns out, that cells can draw on their DNA to become amazingly flexible.  This breakthrough is due in large part for this year’s Nobel Prize winners, Sir John B. Gurdon and Shinya Yamanaka.  The full press release is here, but below I cite some coverage from around the world.

The BBC describes the two men’s breakthroughs as follows.

In 1962, John Gurdon showed that the genetic information inside a cell taken from the intestines of a frog contained all the information need to create a whole new frog. He took the genetic information and placed it inside a frog egg. The resulting clone developed into a normal tadpole.

Forty years later Shinya Yamanaka used a different approach. Rather than transferring the genetic information into an egg, he reset it.  He added four genes to skin cells which transformed them into stem cells, which in turn could become specialised cells.”

The Houston Chronicle reports that:
“Just last week, Japanese scientists reported using Yamanaka’s approach to turn skin cells from mice into eggs that produced baby mice.”

The Washington Post notes:
[Yamanaka’s] breakthrough offered hope that someday, skin cells could be harvested from a patient, sent back in time to an embryonic state, and then grown into replacement tissues such as heart muscle or nerve cells.

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