Shinya Yamanaka of Japan and John Gurdon of England have been jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine, kicking off a big for the most-coveted awards in the world.
The two researchers work independently, but have both made related breakthrough discoveries—some more than 40 years apart—in the field of cell biology. Their Nobels were specifically cited "for the discovery that mature cells can be reprogrammed to become pluripotent." A pluripotent stem cell is one that can develop into many different types of specialized cells (like a nerve ending or a muscle or a liver cell.) The ability to program existing cells to create new stem cells has incredible potential for everything from the treatment and curing of diseases to possibly growing new cells and organs from scratch.
The rest of the Nobel Prizes will be handed out throughout the next week. Physics will be announced tomorrow, Chemistry on Wednesday, Literature on Thursday, and the Peace Prize winner will be named on Friday. The Economics award, which was not part of the original bequest of Alfred Nobel, but was named in his honor, will be given out next Monday. The recipients each receive a medal and 8 million Swedish kronor, which is about $1.2 million.