Nobel Prize winner Sir John Gurdon visits Monash

31 October 2014
Sir John Gurdon with ARMI’s Peter Currie and Nadia Rosenthal and WEHI Director Doug Hilton (photo courtesy G Sack)

During his recent visit to Monash University, Nobel laureate Sir John Gurdon enthralled an audience of over 300 people with tales of his ground-breaking work in cloning and his ongoing fascination in genetics, cell reprogramming and the future of stem cell research.

Sir John’s visit to Melbourne was hosted by the Australian Regenerative Medicine Institute (ARMI) and provided a fantastic opportunity for staff and students to hear insights from such an esteemed scientist.

Sir John was awarded the 2012 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine, together with Professor Shinya Yamanaka, for their discovery that mature cells can be converted back into primitive cells capable of forming all cells in the body. While jointly awarded the Nobel Prize, their research was conducted independently many decades apart.

In experiments performed in the 1960s, Sir John first demonstrated that it was possible to reset or reprogram cell fate by showing that a fully functioning frog could be cloned from a tadpole’s intestine – substantially changing how we view development and cell fate.

However it wasn't until 40 years later that Professor Shinya Yamanaka was able to expand on Gurdon’s work and develop a slightly different approach to reprogram mammalian cells and thereby restore developmental capacity and create stem cells capable of developing into all the tissues of the body.

Combined their discoveries have made an important contribution to medical research and may lead to new medical treatments.

Reflecting on Sir John’s visit, ARMI Director Professor Nadia Rosenthal said that Sir John was inspiration. Not only had he contributed so substantially to stem cell research, the fact that he pursued his passion for science despite being actively discourage by his school teachers from studying science. Famously one teach wrote in his report card, “I believe he has ideas about becoming a Scientist….this is quite ridiculous….it would be a sheer waste of time, both on his part, and of those who have to teach him.”

Luckily his teacher was proven wrong and Sir John decided to pursue science.

Sir John visited Monash University in October as part of ARMI’s external speaker program.