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British, Japanese Researchers Win Nobel Prize In Medicine

John B. Gurdon (left) and Shinya Yamanaka will share the prize, worth about $1.2 million.
AFP/Getty Images
John B. Gurdon (left) and Shinya Yamanaka will share the prize, worth about $1.2 million.

The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded this morning to a British and a Japanese researcher who discovered that mature and specialized cells "can be reprogrammed to become immature cells capable of developing into all tissues of the body," according to the Nobel committee.

This year's honorees are John B. Gurdon of the Gurdon Institute in Cambridge, England, and Shinya Yamanaka at Kyoto University in Japan. They will share the prize, worth about $1.2 million.

The Nobel committee writes:

"These groundbreaking discoveries have completely changed our view of the development and cellular specialisation. We now understand that the mature cell does not have to be confined forever to its specialised state. Textbooks have been rewritten and new research fields have been established. By reprogramming human cells, scientists have created new opportunities to study diseases and develop methods for diagnosis and therapy."

As NPR's Rob Stein reports, the hope is that eventually these reprogrammable cells — known as induced pluripotent stem cells, or iPS cells — will lead to new treatments for many diseases. Because they are created from adult cells and not cells from embryos, he says, they sidestep all the moral and ethical concerns associated with cells obtained from embryos.

Our colleagues over at the Shots blog will have more coverage of the award later this morning.

Here's the schedule for the other Nobel Prize announcements:

Tuesday: Physics

Wednesday: Chemistry

Thursday: Literature

Friday: Peace

Oct. 15: Economics

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Catherine Laidlaw