Massachusetts General Hospital's Warren Triennial Prize to honor pioneers of cellular reprogramming

December 16, 2010

The 2011 Warren Triennial Prize of Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) will be awarded to Shinya Yamanaka, MD, PhD, who discovered a method to convert adult cells into cells with characteristics of embryonic stem cells, and Rudolf Jaenisch, MD, whose extension of Yamanaka's work includes using those cells to generate animal models of important human diseases. The award will be presented at a daylong symposium in October 2011, part of the celebration of the 200th anniversary of the founding of the MGH. Yamanaka is director of the Center for iPS Cell Research and Application at Kyoto University in Japan and a senior investigator at the Gladstone Institutes in San Francisco. Jaenisch is a founding member of the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research and a professor of Biology at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

"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, in 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 was named for Dr. John Collins Warren, a co-founder of the MGH who played a leading role in establishing what became the New England Journal of Medicine and also performed the first public surgical operation utilizing ether anesthesia on October 16, 1846. Twenty-two Warren recipients have also received the Nobel Prize, most recently 2004 recipients Craig Mello, PhD, and Andrew Fire, PhD, who received the 2006 Nobel. The 2008 Warren Triennial was awarded to Victor Ambros, PhD, and Gary Ruvkun, PhD, for discovering the role of microRNAs in regulating gene activity.

At a time when researchers investigating the potential of embryonic stem cells focused on controlling cellular differentiation, Yamanaka took a different approach - returning differentiated adult cells to the embryonic state. In 2006 his team reported discovering that inducing the activation of four transcription factors in adult skin cells converted them into cells displaying many properties of embryonic stem cells, which he named 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 earlier this year reprogrammed cells from human blood samples into iPSCs. Jaenisch's group also is investigating ways to overcome the technical limitations of human embryonic stem (ES) cells, which are much harder to work with than mouse ES cells.

Joseph Goldstein, MD, the Regental Professor and chairman of Molecular Genetics at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, a member of the Warren Prize Selection Committee, says, "Yamanaka's development of iPSC technology and Jaenisch's pioneering work demonstrating the use of reprogrammed cells to treat models of human disease have pushed stem cell research to the forefront of biomedical science." Goldstein is also chairman of the MGH Scientific Advisory Committee.

Adds Phillip Sharp, PhD, Institute Professor in the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at MIT, also a member of the selection committee, "These research advances have greatly expanded knowledge of the plasticity of control of cellular identity and hold the potential for new treatments for many of the degenerative diseases of mankind."
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Celebrating the 200th anniversary of its founding in 1811, Massachusetts General Hospital is the original and largest teaching hospital of Harvard Medical School. The MGH conducts the largest hospital-based research program in the United States, with an annual research budget of more than $600 million and major research centers in AIDS, cardiovascular research, cancer, computational and integrative biology, cutaneous biology, human genetics, medical imaging, neurodegenerative disorders, regenerative medicine, systems biology, transplantation biology and photomedicine.

Massachusetts General Hospital

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