The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2012 was awarded jointly to British researcher John B. Gurdon and Shinya Yamanaka from Japan “for the discovery that mature cells can be reprogrammed to become pluripotent”.

• Human induced pluripotent cells (iPSC) are stem cells made from ordinary (non-embryonic) skin cells that are given a transformational cocktail of four genes (cMyc, Oct4, Klf4, and Sox2). This allows reprogramming into any adult cell, such as human brain cells shown in the image on right. See a short video describing this in an earlier post on Dr. Yamanaka winning the Millenium Technology prize ►

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  1. Jetsun says:

    Great! My wish for a very near future is to see some rigorous work on how emotions, state of mind influence body cells and DNA!

  2. Both these guys have spent a life time trying to get to the bottom of how stem cells work. There is still mountains of works left to clear but I so admire their perseverance and their ability to distil a nightmarishly complex piece of biology into something that is relatively “simple”. I suspect much of what they discovered will go into the foundations of this century which will undoubtedly belong to Biologists.

  3. Rajini Rao says:

    Well said, Suhail Manzoor !

    The revelation that stem cells lurk everywhere, in our brains (so our neurons can regenerate after all) or inside a cancerous mass (making the tumor devilishly hard to eradicate)- truly a game changer.

  4. Rajini Rao says:

    Gurudatta Raut , turn your question around. It is now known that there are cancer stem cells..these are naturally part of the tumor and quite resistant to chemotherapy. If these are not killed, they continue to regrow the tumor. So the importance of stem cells is their potential for good (when used to grow organs or in therapy) as well as harm (naturally found in cancers).

  5. Jim Carver says:

    So if you kill the cancerous stem cells then you stop the cancer right? Or would it be better to inhibit the cancer cells from making stem cells? Or try and kill it alll? Sorry, it’s early for me.

  6. Rajini Rao says:

    There are natural stem cells, as in embryonic stem cells, that can become any cell type they want. The Nobel was awarded to Dr. Yamanaka for his work on induced stem cells, that are engineered by scientists to become any type of cell. Do you see the difference now? The induced cells are from an adult, and politically more palatable because they don’t offend religious beliefs on the sanctity of the embryo.

  7. Rajini Rao says:

    Thanks for the link, Siamak Manzarpour . Checking it out now.

    Jim Carver , you’re right. The trick is to figure out how to kill the cancer stem cells. They are naturally drug resistant.

  8. Jim Carver says:

    Rajini Rao So I guess in practice you would want to go after both types, stem and mature cancer cells, but we really want to hit the stem cells so we can at least stop the progression. ya?

  9. Rajini Rao says:

    Yes, that’s right Jim Carver . Certainly don’t want to leave those pesky cancer stem cells behind.

  10. Jim Carver says:

    Thanks, I had never thought about cancer stem cells.

  11. Rajini Rao says:

    That’s why I brought it up, Jim Carver , although I don’t want to imply that they are the mainstream of research in the stem cell field. I came to know of them only in the past year, and was intrigued.

  12. Jim Carver says:

    Rajini Rao I’m for sure over my head on this, but is there any research that you know of that could enhance the immune system to target cancerous stem cells? It seems that drugs tend to suppress immune function. Is there any way to use a different approach?

  13. Rajini Rao says:

    Jim Carver  Yes, absolutely there is a way to target the immune system to attack cancer stem cells. People are actively working on this.

    (1) antibodies (monoclonal) can be raised against specific markers expressed on cancer stem cells.

    (2) Dendritic (type of immune) cells are exposed to tumor antigens (protein or peptides) or transfected with a viral vector expressing tumor antigen. If injected into a cancer patient, the modified dendritic cells could present tumor antigen in vivo, activating tumor-specific effector cells to mount an antitumor immune response.

    (3) T lymphocytes can be activated in vitro and then transferred back into the patient where they recognize and destroy tumor cells. “Autologous tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes (TILs), for example, have been successfully applied to treat patients with metastatic melanoma, by priming T cells extracted from the tumor milieu.”

    That’s just a start 🙂

  14. Rajini Rao says:

    Boris Novak , that’s a bit too broad a brush stroke to paint with!

    Tuning humans to become more respectful, empathetic and concerned is a great goal, but not (yet) within the range of molecular biology 🙂

  15. Jim Carver says:

    You know we were one of the first groups to make taxol some odd twenty years ago. You know I never looked up its mode of action. Well we didn’t have the internet back then and I was working on a mountain ranch property that didn’t even have decent phone service. ha! funny

    This is one of those things when you hear about it, you go…well, yeah!, of course…mmm duh. 🙂

  16. BTW +Rajini Rao , I learnt all about Gordon and Yamanaka from this book Reading about what they did left me gob smacked 🙂 And I learnt a new word : “Epigenetics”, and I know what “pluripotent” means 😉

  17. Max Huijgen says:

    For a moment I thought you referred to the STEM efforts to get more women in science and tech (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics=STEM) Rajini Rao 😉

  18. Jetsun says:

    No blabla at all Boris Novak, but may be it is the other way around, the state of mind influencing the cells. Understanding the subtleties of if this process is worth a Nobel price to my view, as it would lead to an entire set of new FREE tools to help preventing and recovering for all kind of diseases. 😉

  19. Rajini Rao says:

    Suhail Manzoor , you must have the best book collection! Thanks for the suggestion.

    Max Huijgen , STEM women striking gold would have been nice! Perhaps we are getting there 🙂

    Feisal Kamil , you mean to say you don’t have a spare umbilical cord lying around? 😉

  20. Rajini Rao says:

    Jim Carver , would love to hear your taxol (“Paclitaxel”) story. It targets tubulin, which is the monomer unit of microtubules. All cells need tubulin, but cancer cells more so, because they are actively dividing. Microtubules make up the the spindle that pulls apart chromosomes in cell division.  Taxol is found naturally in the bark of the Pacific yew tree, Taxus brevifolia I believe. I heard that it really comes from a fungus living in the bark. More power to fungi!

  21. Jim Carver says:

    Rajini Rao I believe it because there is something in that bark that is ‘allergic’. My brother drove back with a load of that bark and I think that was around ’92 from Oregon. He was really suffering by the time he got back to Colorado. I wasn’t as bad, but I did have to have a good mask when I ground it.

    I did the grinding and crude extraction, spray dried it into concentrate and then brought it to our labs in Boulder for further work. We had good results and even got paid.

    We had many projects like that back in those days. 🙂

  22. Rajini Rao says:

    Curiosity driven research, Jim Carver ! Nothing beats it, in my opinion 🙂 

  23. Jetsun says:

    …except wanting happiness for all

  24. Rajini Rao says:

    Hah, yes, that too Didier Greusard 🙂

  25. And just to add to what Rajini Rao said about curiosity. If it was bad for us, it would have made us extinct already.

  26. Rajini Rao says:

    Suhail Manzoor , even the aphorism Curiosity killed the cat is countered by the observation that a cat has nine lives 🙂

  27. Rajini Rao says:

    I’m at work right now, Gurudatta Raut and I was going to get back to you later because your question is quite a broad one and not related to stem cells.  “How DNA repair works” is an entire field of research 🙂

  28. Rajini Rao says:

    Patrick Armstrong  Colleagues who have been lucky enough to receive them speak of the 2 am EDT call from the Nobel Prize committee 🙂

  29. Cancer stem cells are really interesting – I remember reading that ‘normal’ cancer cells can ‘revert’ to a cancer stem cell-like state too. So basically if chemo drugs kill off the normal cancer cells and leave behind the cancer stem cell, the cancer stem cell will repopulate the tumor. Likewise if you target only the cancer stem cell, the normal cancer cell can revert back to being a cancer stem cell and repopulate the tumor. The key is to target both normal cancer cells and cancer stem cells within a tumor. I’ll look up the ref once I have some free time at work, but it’s fascinating and really cool how it works 🙂

  30. Rajini Rao says:

    Would love to see the reference when you have time, Buddhini Samarasinghe . Not my area of research 🙂

  31. Anton T. says:

    Buddhini Samarasinghe The reverting sounds pretty scary to me, I didn’t know about that.

  32. Rajini Rao Here’s a quick summary of the findings:

    “It may be that if one eliminates the cancer stem cells within a tumor through some targeted agent, some of the surviving non-stem tumor cells will generate new cancer stem cells through spontaneous de-differentiation,” says Whitehead Founding Member Robert Weinberg. Cancer stem cells are uniquely capable of reseeding tumors at both primary and distant sites in the body

    Anton Timoshkin Yes, it is very scary because it means that no matter how much chemo you use to kill the normal cancer cells, they will keep coming back because of the cancer stem cells. It also means that even if you find a way to kill off the cancer stem cells, the normal cancer cells can make the cancer stem cells again. It’s very strange, because we’ve always thought differentiation was a one-way street. Now it looks like that’s not the case.

  33. My special congratulations to Shinya Yamanaka. I was hoping for this.

    More info from the Noble committee can be found here:

    Yamanaka published really two ground braking papers:

  34. Rajini Rao says:

    Buddhini Samarasinghe , cancer cells have been known for a long time to de-differentiate and undergo epithelial to mesenchymal transition (EMT). I’m wondering if this is the same thing as reverting to stemness or if it’s different. Dang, I can’t keep up with the terminology 😉

    Thanks for the link to the abstracts, Gerd Moe-Behrens . They are a good read for anyone interested.

  35. Rajini Rao says:

    Larry Olson , this is nothing compared to the scientist pros at  🙂

  36. Rajini Rao I think it’s different to EMT. I’ll read a bit more on it and get back to you, in the middle of facilitating ‘yeast happy time’ (aka mating) 😛

  37. Rajini Rao says:

    Get those alpha dog yeasts to cozy up to the MATa s, Buddhini Samarasinghe 🙂

  38. Buddhini Samarasinghe Rajini Rao see also: Cancer link raises questions about stem cells

  39. Induced pluripotency and oncogenic transformation are related processes


    John W Riggs, Dr. Bonnie Barrilleaux, Natalia Varlakhanova, Kelly Bush, Vanessa Chan, and Dr. Paul Knoepfler

    “Induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSC) have the potential for creating patient-specific regenerative medicine therapies, but the links between pluripotency and tumorigenicity raise important safety concerns. More specifically, the methods employed for the production of induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSC) and oncogenic foci (OF), a form of in vitro produced tumor cells, are surprisingly similar, raising potential concerns about iPSC. To test the hypotheses that iPSC and OF are related cell types and, more broadly, that the induction of pluripotency and tumorigenicity are related processes, we produced iPSC and OF in parallel from common parental fibroblasts. When we compared the transcriptomes of these iPSC and OF to their parental fibroblasts, similar transcriptional changes were observed in both iPSC and OF. A significant number of genes repressed during iPSC formation were also repressed in OF, including a large cohort of differentiation-associated genes. iPSC and OF shared a limited number of genes that were upregulated relative to parental fibroblasts but gene ontology analysis pointed toward monosaccharide metabolism as upregulated in both iPSC and OF. iPSC and OF were distinct in that only iPSCs activated a host of pluripotency-related genes, while OF activated cellular damage and specific metabolic pathways. We reprogrammed OF to produce iPSC-like cells, a process dependent on Nanog. However, the reprogrammed OF (ROF) had reduced differentiation potential compared to iPSC, suggesting that oncogenic transformation leads to cellular changes that impair complete reprogramming. Taken together, these findings support a model in which OF and iPSC are related, yet distinct cell types, and in which induced pluripotency and induced tumorigenesis are similar processes.”

  40. Rajini Rao says:

    Thanks for the references, Gerd Moe-Behrens . Will check them out and comment after reading. So perhaps, we were not that off base with all the discussion on cancer in this Stem cell post after all!

  41. Great looking forward to the discussion. This might be an interesting area to have a look into……

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