John B. Gurdon of Britain discovered in 1962 that the specialization of cells is reversible and Shinya Yamanaka discovered in 2006 how intact mature cells in mice could be reprogrammed to become immature stem cells, the Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Institutet in Solna, Sweden, said in a release.
The groundbreaking discoveries "have completely changed our view of the development and cellular specialization. We now understand that the mature cell does not have to be confined forever to its specialized state," the assembly said.
"By reprogramming human cells, scientists have created new opportunities to study diseases and develop methods for diagnosis and therapy," the release said.
Gurdon's experimentation involved replacing an immature cell nucleus in a frog egg cell with the nucleus from a mature intestinal cell. This modified egg cell developed into a normal tadpole and the DNA of the mature cell retained all the information needed to develop all cells.
Yamanaka discovered that by introducing only a few genes he could reprogram mature cells to become pluripotent stem cells, or immature cells capable of developing into all types of cells in the body.
Gurdon was born in 1933 in Dippenhall, England, and earned his doctorate from the University of Oxford in 1960. He was a postdoctoral fellow at the California Institute of Technology before joining Cambridge University 1972. Gurdon now is at the Gurdon Institute in Cambridge.
Yamanaka was born in Osaka, Japan, in 1962. He obtained his medical doctorate in 1987 at Kobe University and trained as an orthopedic surgeon before going into basic research. He worked at the Gladstone Institute in San Francisco and the Nara Institute of Science and Technology in Japan. Yamanaka is now a professor at Kyoto University.