Two scientists who were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine on Monday helped lay the foundation for regenerative medicine, the hotly pursued though still distant idea of rebuilding the body with tissues generated from its own cells. They are John B. Gurdon of the University of Cambridge in England and Shinya Yamanaka of Kyoto University in Japan
Their discoveries concern the manipulation of living cells, and lie at the heart of the techniques for cloning animals and generating stem cells, the primitive cells from which the mature tissues of the body develop. Dr. Gurdon was the first to clone an animal, a frog, and Dr. Yamanaka discovered the proteins with which an adult cell can be converted to an egg-like state. The prize was announced in Stockholm.
Both men had to overcome false starts in life. Dr. Gurdon was told as a boy that he was wholly unsuited for biology, and Dr. Yamanaka trained as a surgeon only to find he was not so good at it.
The techniques they developed reach to the beginnings of life, and have generated objections from people who fear, on ethical or religious grounds, that scientists are pressing too far into nature’s mysteriese and the ability to create life artificially.
Dr. Gurdon’s discovery came in 1962, when he produced living tadpoles from the adult cells of a frog. His work was at first greeted with skepticism, because it contradicted the textbook dogma that adult cells are irrevocably assigned to their specific functions and cannot assume new ones. (His prize was the first Nobel to be awarded to a cloner.)