Stockholm, Sweden, Oct 8, 2012 / 16:28 pm
Moral theologian Father Thomas Berg is praising the work of Shinya Yamanaka, the winner of this year's Nobel Prize in medicine, for helping to “put human embryonic stem cell research largely out of business.”
Yamanaka and John B. Gurdon, researchers in cell biology, were awarded the 2012 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their discoveries about the generation of stem cells.
“Yamanaka will be remembered in history as the man who put human embryonic stem cell research largely out of business, motivated by reflection on the fact that his own daughters were once human embryos,” Fr. Berg, professor of moral theology at St. Joseph's Seminary in Yonkers, N.Y. told CNA Oct. 8.
Gurdon's research was conducted in 1962 and showed that it is possible to reverse the specialization of cells. He removed a nucleus from a frog’s intestinal cell and placed it into a frog's egg cell that had its nucleus taken out.
That egg cell was then able to develop into a typical tadpole, and his work was the basis for later research into cloning.
Until Gurdon's findings, it was believed that cell development could only happen in one direction, and that a mature cell nucleus could never become immature and pluripotent. A cell is called pluripotent if it can develop into any type of cell in the body.
Building on Gordon's work, Yamanaka published a paper in 2006 demonstrating that intact, mature cells can become immature stem cells. He inserted genes into mouse cells which reprogrammed those cells so that they became stem cells.
These reprogrammed cells are pluripotent. Yamanaka's breakthrough opened the door to studying disease and developing diagnosis and treatments.