The winning scientists include:
• Elaine Fuchs, Ph.D., the Rebecca C. Lancefield Professor, head of the Laboratory of Mammalian Cell Biology and Development, and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator at The Rockefeller University in New York City;
• James A. Thomson, V.M.D., Ph.D., director of regenerative biology at the Morgridge Institute for Research in Madison, Wis. and professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health and the Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology Department at the University of California, Santa Barbara;
• Shinya Yamanaka, M.D., Ph.D., director and professor of the Center for iPS Cell Research and Applications at Kyoto
University in Japan and senior investigator at the Gladstone Institute of Cardiovascular Disease in San Francisco.
James J. Barba, president and chief executive officer of Albany Medical Center and chairman of the National Selection Committee commented on the importance of the prizes: “Diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, cancer, spinal cord injury. The solutions to these debilitating diseases and many, many others that plague humans might very well be found through the science of stem cells. That’s how important the research of Drs. Fuchs, Thomson and Yamanaka is. Their discoveries have moved us closer to realizing the regenerative and potentially healing properties of stem cells. Their work has been widely publicized within the scientific stem cell community, and lies as a basis for new discoveries being made every day. We commend these three pioneers and honor them for their extraordinary contributions.”
Drs. Yamanaka and Thomson worked separately but are both credited with working toward a methodology that genetically re-programs human cells to revert to a version of a stem cell called iPS or induced Pluripotent stem cell. These cells share the characteristics of embryonic stem cells and can be produced in limitless supply. The almost omniscient powers of these cells are that they can in theory reproduce any tissue in the body allowing for the regeneration of heart muscle, nerve cells, retinal cells, etc. The hope is that these cells will allow us to create a regenerative medicine and treat heretofore untreatable conditions such as spinal cords injuries, diabetes, forms of blindness, etc.
Dr. Fuchs has worked on the biology of stem cells. She notes that in order to use stem cells advantageously and therapeutically, scientists need to understand how they operate on a very basic, molecular level. Specifically, Fuchs’ researched the development of skin and hair, both of which develop from a single type of skin stem cell. Dr. Fuchs research has also studied how stem cells repair wounds and led her laboratory to the genetic bases of human skin disorders, including cancers.
The prize carries a monetary award of $500,000.