The 2012 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine has been awarded jointly to Japan's Shinya Yamanaka and John Gurdon of Britain "for the discovery that mature cells can be reprogrammed to become pluripotent."
The prize committee at Stockholm's Karolinska Institute said on October 8 that the discovery has "revolutionized our understanding of how cells and organisms develop."
"The Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Institutet has today decided to award the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2012 jointly to John B. Gurdon and Shinya Yamanaka for the discovery that mature cells can be reprogrammed to become pluripotent," Goeran Hansson, a member of the Nobel Committee for Physiology or Medicine at the institute, announced in Stockholm.
The breakthrough first suggested that specialized cells could be altered into "immature cells capable of developing into all tissues of the body," the institute said.
It said Gurdon discovered in 1962 that the specialization of cells is reversible.
More than 40 years later, in 2006, Shinya Yamanaka discovered how intact mature cells in mice could be reprogrammed to become pluripotent stem cells -- immature cells that are able to develop into all types of cells in the body.
The institute said that by reprogramming human cells, "scientists have created new opportunities to study diseases and develop methods for diagnosis and therapy."
The medicine prize is the first of six Nobel prizes to be awarded this year.
The prize in physics will be announced on October 9, followed by chemistry on October 10, literature on October 11, economics on October 15, and the Nobel Peace Prize on October 12.
The prestigious prizes, founded by Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel, were first awarded in 1901.
The economics prize, which was established by the Swedish central bank in 1968, is not technically a Nobel Prize.
This year, the Nobel Foundation lowered the prize money 20 percent to $1.2 million, citing turmoil on financial markets.
All prizes will be handed out on December 10, the anniversary of Nobel's death in 1896.
Based on reporting by AP