John Gurdon of the UK and Shinya Yamanaka of Japan were awarded the 2012 Nobel Prize in physiology for medicine Monday after the pair discovered that adult specialized cells can be reprogrammed into stem cells.
According to the Washington Post, in 1962 Hurdon proved that the DNA from specialized cells of frogs could be used to generate new tadpoles. That showed the DNA still had its ability to drive the formation of all cells of the body.
In 2006, Yamanaka capitalized off of Hurdon's work. He showed that a mature cell could be turned back into a primitive cell, which in turn could be made into different kinds of mature cells.
Both Gurdon and Yamanaka, along with scientists across the globe, want to use the reprogrammed stem cells to treat diseases like Parkinson’s and diabetes.
Gurdon told the BBC, "The eventual aim is to provide replacement cells of all kinds starting from usually obtainable cells of an adult individual. For example, we would like to be able to find a way of obtaining spare heart or brain cells from skin or blood cells."
According to the Nobel committee, the pair has "revolutionized" science with their work.
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"The discoveries of Gurdon and Yamanaka have shown that specialized cells can turn back the developmental clock under certain circumstances," the committee said in a statement. "These discoveries have also provided new tools for scientists around the world and led to remarkable progress in many areas of medicine."
According to Bloomberg, last year’s Nobel prize went to Jules A. Hoffmann, Bruce A. Beutler and Ralph M. Steinman, for research illuminating how the body’s immune system recognizes infection and marshals an attack against it. Tragically, Steinman died three days before the award was announced. He was never aware he was up for the prize.