Press release

Sir John Gurdon, Wellcome Trust researcher and former governor, awarded Nobel Prize

Professor Sir John Gurdon, after whom the Wellcome Trust and Cancer Research UK Gurdon Institute at the University of Cambridge was named, has been awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine or Physiology, it was announced today.

A former governor of the Wellcome Trust, Professor Gurdon was awarded the Prize for the discovery that mature cells can be reprogrammed to become immature cells that are capable of developing into all tissues of the body. He is widely regarded as the scientist who kick-started the field of cloning.

Sir William Castell, Chairman of the Wellcome Trust, says: "We are delighted that Sir John Gurdon, a former governor of the Wellcome Trust whose work we have supported for over 20 years, has been awarded this year's Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. This is a great day for John Gurdon, a great day for British science and a great day for the ethos of blue skies research.

"John's seminal work, which was carried out in the 1960s, showing that is possible to reprogramme a mature frog cell into a nonspecialised, immature cell, was both counterintuitive and with no conceivable application at the time. Yet it now underpins all of regenerative medicine, an area in which the UK remains at the cutting edge. His recognition by the Nobel Prize is very well deserved.

"The Wellcome Trust and Cancer Research UK Gurdon Institute at the University of Cambridge, named in honour of John, is incredibly influential in the fields of cancer and developmental biology. The philosophy there, very much instilled by John himself, is inclusive, open and democratic, with a focus on basic research.

"Thanks to the direction of John and his colleagues, Gurdon scientists are free to be themselves, enjoy their work and concentrate on what really matters - the research. This ethos also reached out and influenced the Wellcome Trust, where he was a governor from 1995 to 2000."

In 1962, Professor Gurdon was the first to demonstrate that the specialisation of cells is reversible when he successfully 'cloned' the South African frog from a tadpole's intestinal cell. By transplanting the nucleus of the intestinal cell into an empty egg cell, he created an organism genetically identical to the tadpole before. The discovery caused shockwaves around the scientific community, not least because a mere graduate student had disproved previously held dogma developed by more famous and established scientists.

Professor Gurdon was one of a group of scientists who co-founded the Wellcome Trust/Cancer Research Campaign Institute in Cambridge in 1991, which was subsequently renamed the Wellcome Trust/Cancer Research Gurdon Institute. He was the Institute's director until 2001 when he stepped down.

The Institute has had Wellcome Trust core funding since its establishment and in June this year celebrated its 21st anniversary. The Trust has supported work in John's own lab since 2002.