January 21, 2021

The Niche

Trusted stem cell blog & resources

Nobel Prize 2012 for stem cells to Yamanaka & Gurdon: why only 2?

Nobel PrizeStem cell revolutionaries Drs. Shinya Yamanaka and John Gurdon have won the 2012 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine.

Gurdon cloned for the first animal, a frog, and Yamanaka produced induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), a kind of stem cell with the power of pluripotency, but derived from ordinary non-stem cells. Gurdon’s work was based on the technique of nuclear reprogramming based on somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT).

Both men are well-deserved winners of the Nobel Prize for their work investigating how cell fate can be changed in fundamental ways.

Interestingly, three people can share a Nobel Prize, but this one only goes to two. Why?

There are quite a number of deserving scientists, true pioneers in the stem cell field who could have been chosen for that third slot. However, it went empty, which I find very interesting.

Why didn’t the Nobel committee give it to Jamie Thomson, who was the first to make human embryonic stem (ES) cells and also made human iPS cells very early on (although a year after Yamanaka made the seminal discovery in mice) ?

Martin Evans, a discoverer of mouse ES cells, of course already won the prize in 2007 he couldn’t get it again. Many folks felt that Gail Martin was unfairly left out of that Nobel Prize.

What about Rudy Jaenisch? He has done pioneering work in stem cell research and in cloning, but in mice.

In the end we may never know why the Nobel Committee left that third slot empty, but it is an intriguing question.

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