Pluripotent Stem Cells and the Nobel Prize for Medicine

nobel medal in medicineThe 2012 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was announced earlier this week. The prize was awarded to two scientists for their work on reprogramming mature cells to become pluripotent.

The prize of 10-million-Swedish-krona (US$1.5-million) was divided, one half jointly to Sir John B. Gurdon, age 79, at the Gurdon Institute, Cambridge, United Kingdom, and Shinya Yamanaka, age 50, at Kyoto University, Kyoto, Japan and the Gladstone Institutes, San Francisco, California, USA, for the discovery that mature, specialized cells can be reprogrammed to become immature cells capable of developing into all tissues of the body.

A New Era for Stem Cell Research and Scientific Integrity

Before a packed East Room audience yesterday, President Obama signed an executive order reversing the Bush administration’s restrictions on federal funding of research that involves human embryonic stem cells. The long-expected change in policy will help U.S. researchers compete with other nations in stem cell research. Indeed, United Kingdom stem cell scientists are already voicing concerns that the U.K. may lose its place to the U.S. as the world leader of stem cell research [1].

Exactly What are Stem Cells?

The ethical and moral debate over the use of stem cells has taken center stage over the past decade. Stem cells are of great medical interest, since they have the potential to develop into almost any type of cell in the body. Regenerative medicine focuses on the potential uses of stem cells in medicine and how they can provide effective treatment for a range of diseases.

Stem cells have the capacity to divide indefinitely to replenish other cells in the body. When a stem cell divides, each daughter cell can remain a stem cell or become a more specialized cell, such as a red blood cell, a muscle cell or a nerve cell. An increasing body of evidence also suggests that molecular pathways and properties associated with normal stem cells is relevant to cancer development [1].

Amniotic Stem Cell Lines May Hold a Potential for Therapy

Scientists at the Wake Forest University School of Medicine and Harvard School of Medicine report in the Journal of Nature Biotechnology that they have isolated stem cells from amniotic fluid [1]. Further, by introducing growth factors, they were able to get the anmiotic fluid-derived stem cells to differentiate (a concept from developmental biology describing the process by which cells acquire a “type”) into muscle, fat, bone, blood vessel, liver and nerve cells.