Friday, January 7, 2011

MGH Warren Triennial Prize to honor pioneers of cellular reprogramming

Jaenisch, left, and Yamanaka, photos courtesy of chris goodfellow and the gladstone institutes

The scientific centerpiece of activities celebrating the MGH bicentennial will be the presentation of the Warren Triennial Prize to Shinya Yamanaka, MD, PhD, of Kyoto University in Japan and the Gladstone Institutes in San Francisco, and Rudolf Jaenisch, MD, of the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research and MIT.  At a daylong symposium in October,  Yamanaka will be honored for his discovery of a method to convert adult cells into cells with characteristics of embryonic stem cells and Jaenisch for his extension of Yamanaka’s work, including the generation of animal models of important human diseases. 

“The Warren Triennial is the top scientific award presented by the MGH, and we are delighted to be able to honor the groundbreaking work of Drs. Yamanaka and Jaenisch,” says Daniel Haber, MD, PhD, chair of the MGH Executive Committee on Research and director of the MGH Cancer Center. ”Their research has opened up a new direction for the future of medicine, and the MGH is particularly proud to recognize these discoveries in our bicentennial year, during which we will celebrate both the rich history and future promise of biomedical research.”

Awarded every third year, the Warren Prize honors scientists who have made outstanding contributions in fields related to medicine and includes a cash award of $50,000. Created in 1871, the prize is named for Dr. John Collins Warren, a co-founder of the
MGH who performed the first public surgical operation utilizing ether anesthesia on Oct. 16, 1846. Twenty-two Warren recipients also have received the Nobel Prize.

At a time when researchers investigating the potential of embryonic stem cells focused on directing the process of cellular differentiation, Yamanaka took a different approach – returning differentiated adult cells to the embryonic state. In 2006 his team reported discovering that activation of four transcription factors in adult skin cells converted them into cells
displaying many properties of embryonic stem (ES) cells. He named these reprogrammed cells induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs). In subsequent work, Yamanaka’s team confirmed that iPSCs can give rise to any type of mammalian tissue and refined the technology in order to reduce potential hazards associated with the cells.

Long a leader in studies of the regulation of gene expression, Jaenisch was one of the first to replicate and expand on Yamanaka’s work. In 2007 both he and Yamanaka reported generating live mice from iPSCs, and Jaenisch went on to show that iPSCs could be used to correct the genetic defect in an animal model of sickle cell disease. He also has used the cells to treat an animal model of Parkinson’s disease and last year reprogrammed human blood cells into iPSCs. Jaenisch’s group now is investigating ways to overcome the technical limitations of human ES cells, which are much harder to work with than mouse ES cells.

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