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Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine Awarded To Stem Cell Researchers

Posted at: 10/08/2012 9:18 PM
Updated at: 10/15/2012 10:37 AM
By: Dietrich Nissen

(ABC 6 News) -- Two researchers from Japan and England have been recognized for revolutionizing the field of stem cell research. Sir John Gurdon of England, and, Professor Shinya Yamanaka of Japan, came up with the concept of the Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells.

The pair were awarded this year's Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine on Monday morning.

ABC 6 News sat down with the Mayo Clinic’s director of Regenerative Medicine, Doctor Andre Terzic. He explained how the pairs' discovery has change the field of regenerative medicine.

Imagine being able to use your heart tissue to fix your diseased kidney, or the skin on your hand to fix your ailing lungs.

"You can reset, essentially, a normal cell, a cell of your skin and make it become a stem cell," says Terzic. That stem cell could then be reprogrammed to fit any other part of your body. Terzic has worked with this concept for at least three years.  

"It will be possible to generate new tissue and already the success have happened. Many of which at the Mayo Clinic," says Terzic. In July of 2009, he showed us a video of the diseased heart tissue of a mouse being injected with re-programmed stem cells.

The tissue wasn't from a live patient, but the video shows the cells beginning to regenerate and beating on their own after two weeks.

"We'll be able to reproduce what is happening into the body and define what are the pathways that are corrupted and may lead to disease," says Terzic.

Six years ago Gurdon and Yamanaka came up with the concept, and received the Noble Peace Prize this year. But for Terzic, the real prize is being able to avoid the use of actual embryonic tissue.

"It will essentially allow an unlimited pool of fresh stem cells that can be generated out of our own body," says Terzic. "You are in essence developing a potential of building your own regenerative kit."

By using a person's own cells, Terzic says the risk of rejecting the new cells is eliminated as is the need for anti-rejection drugs.

"It provides a way to dissect very precisely for each patient their own individual condition," says Terzic.

The ultimate goal is to get a patient's diseased organ to fix itself, and essentially, heal the body from within.

Right now the Mayo Clinic is testing for safety and feasibility, before they even consider making it clinically available.