Posts Tagged ‘Nobel Prize’
This is my last blog of the year. Many thanks to all of you for taking the time to read my ramblings. Herewith twelve personal highlights from a fascinating, fun and fast-moving year in Sweden:
- January saw the first of many Ministerial visits this year. Lord Green, our Business Minister came for a big meeting on smart grids and renewable energy, one of many trade and investment sectors linking the UK and Sweden;
- February involved a two-day visit by Prime Minister David Cameron, here to attend the second Northern Future Forum, bringing together PMs and policy experts from the UK and the Nordic-Baltic countries, this year looking at the challenges and opportunities of an ageing society and how to get more women into the workforce.
- March was a particular highlight, with Their Royal Highnesses The Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall, spending three days in and around Stockholm, looking at social integration, education, architecture, climate change, renewable energy and sustainable agriculture. All areas where our governments, businesses and societies are working together.
- April saw me in Gothenburg for a great event with British and Swedish business leaders and sportspeople marking 100 days to go the London Olympics.
- May’s highlight was my first visit to Malmö, an opportunity to meet local politicians, journalists and business people and to talk to students at the university of Lund about the UK and Europe.
- In June, we hosted two big receptions, one in partnership with the BBC and one with Brunswick, to mark The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, including a concert of English music from across the centuries. And it was a privilege to attend the centenary events for the Stockholm 1912 Olympics and to receive Stockholm’s good wishes for the London games.
- July meant Almedalen and several days of sunshine and seminars in the glorious surroundings of Visby.
- August included a lovely week’s break in Sandhamn, enjoying the splendours of the archipelago.
- September was visits season again, with the Head of the UK Civil Service coming to Stockholm to see how an Embassy works. Happily, he went away impressed!
- October saw two more excellent visits, by our Europe Minister, David Lidington and the Chief of the UK Defence Staff, Sir David Richards, talking respectively about the prosperity and security interests the UK and Sweden have in common.
- November saw England’s footballers given the honour of inaugurating the new Friends Arena and of being spectators to an amazing display by Zlatan!
- December saw a British winner! Sir John Gurdon received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his ground-breaking research on reprogramming of cells. Work begun 50 years ago, which has led to stem cell research and the promise of cures which will benefit our grandchildren’s generation. A forward-looking and cheerful note on which to end. Every best wish for a peaceful Christmas and prosperous New Year!
Today the “Diplomatic Dispatch” lives up to its name, as I post the text of the diplomatic telegram I sent back to London yesterday about Britain’s Sir John Gurdon’s Nobel prize win. I presented John with a copy of the text yesterday and he liked it, so I hope it means I’ve explained the science correctly – as a mere political scientist I am treading warily!
Sir John Gurdon honoured for ground-breaking research on reprogramming of cells, work which laid the basis for subsequent advances in stem cells and cloning.
1. Sir John Gurdon, famously condemned by his Eton science master as a hopeless student, received his profession’s ultimate accolade last night when the King of Sweden presented him with the Nobel prize for Physiology or Medicine.
2. Gurdon’s most important research, completed 50 years ago on a special species of African frog, demonstrated that the evolution of cells is not a one-way process. Gurdon replaced the immature cell nucleus in an egg cell of a frog with the nucleus from a mature intestinal cell of a tadpole. This modified egg cell developed into a normal tadpole. The DNA of the mature cell still had all the information needed to develop all cells in the frog. He thus carried out the first cloning of a vertebrate. The cloning of Dolly the sheep, the world’s first cloned mammal, followed the principle that Gurdon had used in his frog experiments.
3. Subsequent research, particularly by Gurdon’s fellow 2012 laureate, Shinya Yamanaka, proved that mature cells could be returned to the stem cell stage. This research, now advancing rapidly, allows human skin cells to be reprogrammed into stem cells, giving science access to new tools for better understanding disease and for developing diagnostics and therapies. Commending John Gurdon at the award ceremony, the Nobel jury said that his research had “fundamentally changed our view of human development and cell specialisation.”
4. Sir John set his discoveries in context in a lecture on the battle for supremacy between the egg and the nucleus, at the Karolinska Institute on 7 December.
5. In his speech at the Nobel Banquet, he noted that frogs had figured prominently in the world of literature, from Aristophanes to Toad of Toad Hall. Quoting Belloc, he said “no animal will more repay treatment that is kind and fair.” He explained that his work had raised the possibility of giving people new cells of their own genetic kind, and hence, without immuno-suppression, to replace cells worn out by age or disease, a hope of the new field of regenerative medicine.
6. It’s fitting that ground-breaking research, which has paved the way for advances in treatment of illness should be celebrated on the day the UK Government committed £100m of new investment in science.
An appropriate issue to blog about on the day a British biologist, Sir John Gurdon, wins the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine.
Sir John’s research on nuclear transfer in frogs in 1962 shattered the dogma that cells only develop in one direction – from young cells to mature cells. He showed that differentiated or mature cells such as skin cells or brain cells still contain the genetic instructions to turn them into any kind of cell. This discovery means that in the future replacement adult cells e g heart or brain cells could be made by taking samples from patients of their skin or blood.
Medicine and innovation more generally depend on breakthroughs like that.
We take it for granted that when we go to the doctor or pharmacy we will get the medicine we need. We hear of pioneering new medicines, which might eventually make their way into the clinics. Things like Beta blockers, or the latest generation of flu drugs. Sweden and the UK have been pioneers of new drugs driven by both our industry and our academics.
But the international pipeline for new medicines could be drying up. Big pharmaceutical companies all over the world face the same challenge. Only a tiny fraction (5-10%) of all clinical trials delivers successful products. Those trials and the research which precedes them are hugely costly and time consuming.
So how to ensure that great new medicines continue to be developed? How are we going to develop the right conditions for pharma companies, large and small, to deliver new products, new jobs and investment?
Here at the Embassy, we’re doing our bit.
On 25 September I hosted a dinner for UK and Swedish life science companies, as part of a trade mission of fifteen UK research companies in Sweden to increase their business here. As a result they have already secured future business worth over £1 million.
On 26 September I had the pleasure of speaking at the Forska!Sverige event on life sciences policy in Stockholm. There was a distinguished Swedish cast list, headed by Jan Björklund, with representatives of four other Swedish parties, too and lots of researchers, academics and other experts. As a mere political scientist I felt very inadequate to the occasion!
Happily, I was joined by guests from the UK – George Freeman life sciences adviser to David Willetts, the UK’s Science Minister and Prof Chas Bountra , Chief Scientist at the Structural Genomics Consortium at Oxford. We set out the measures in the UK Life Sciences Strategy.
One of the key themes of our strategy is making the UK an even better place to do science and research.
So, we are cutting corporation tax. We are cutting tax on income generating from patent medicines.
We are opening up our NHS to allow companies to come in and validate targets in the clinic, and benefit from NHS data.
Every NHS patient in the UK, unless they choose to opt out, is now a research patient, supplying their (anonymised) data for research.
The British government’s Nordic Science and Innovation Network, based in the Embassy here, will continue to build science, trade and investment links between the UK and Sweden in this important field, encouraging innovators to commercialise the medicines of the future.