Degenerative and age-related disorders are a growing concern in today’s society. Many medical conditions are caused by the destruction of the body’s non-replenishable cells such as the death of heart muscle cells in heart attacks and neurons in strokes. Transplanting functional cells into patients can cure these debilitating ailments. However, readily available supplies of such cells do not exist and cells that can be obtained by organ donation programs are not genetically identical to the recipient and they are therefore rejected by the patient’s immune system.
The ideal cell would be a cell that can grow and multiply in lab conditions and can potentially generate every cell type in a similar fashion as embryonic cells. The cells would be grown in the lab and would have the capability of being “customized” with the patient’s own DNA when transplanted. Such cells would be able to replace damaged tissue and restore health. A major breakthrough in achieving these ultimate cells was achieved when, by activating certain transcription factors, scientists were able to reprogram cells into embryonic-like cells that can differentiate to different tissues. These reprogrammable cells were termed induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells.
Dr. Hanna provided the first proof of principle that iPS cells could be used to cure a genetic disease in vivo by correcting sickle cell anemia in mice. This work has been of great importance for demonstrating the capabilities and promise of iPS cells in biomedical and translational research. Dr. Hanna also discovered new ways in making stem cells from cells that had been previously thought to be impervious to these types of manipulations. These discoveries have allowed scientists from leading research centers around the world to better study disease mechanisms.
For these breakthroughs and other discoveries, insights and innovations, the Rappaport Prize Committee unanimously concurs with Technology Review Magazine who has recently named Dr. Jacob Hanna as one of the top innovators in the world under the age of 35, and agreed that he is worthy of the Rappaport Prize for Excellence in Biomedical Research in the category of “Young Investigators”.