Professor James Alexander Thomson is a world-renowned authority of stem cell research. A native of Oak Park, Ill., U.S.A., Professor Thomson received his BA in biophysics from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana in 1981, and earned two doctorate degrees, one in veterinary medicine and one in molecular biology, from the University of Pennsylvania and the Wistar Institute in 1985 and 1988, respectively. He spent the following two years as a postdoctoral research fellow in the Primate In Vitro Fertilization and Experimental Embryology Laboratory at the Oregon National Primate Research Center. From 1991-1994, he completed a residency in veterinary pathology at the Wisconsin Regional Primate Center in the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Professor Thomson is currently Director of Regenerative Biology at the Morgridge Institute for Research in Madison, Wisconsin, John D. MacArthur Professor and Professor of Cell and Regenerative Biology at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health and professor in the Department of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
Thomson began his pioneering stem cell research as a graduate student and continued research at his own laboratory at the University of Wisconsin. He worked initially with mouse and monkey embryos. In 1998, he harvested stem cells for the first time from human embryos. These are “allpurpose” cells that arise within a few days of embryonic life, can divide without limit and are capable of turning into any of the body’s 220 cell types. Hence, they offer a huge potential for further understanding human development and the treatment of complex diseases such as diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and even cancer. However, since embryos were inevitably destroyed during the process of harvesting embryonic stem cells, Thomson’s discovery triggered a long and bitter controversy among scientist, politicians, religious groups and other members of the public. The turning point in the debate came at the hands of both Thomson and Yamanaka. In November 2007, Thomson and, independently, Shinya Yamanaka, made the astounding discovery of a new technique whereby adult human skin cells can be coaxed to revert into cells that looked and acted very much like embryonic stem cells but without ever using a human embryo. The technique, which involved adding just four genes to adult skin cells, not only calmed the bioethics furor of stem cell research but also opened the floodgates for a surge of new stem cell research worldwide.
Professor Thomson’s achievements have been recognized by several awards and honors including membership in the National Academy of Science, American Academy of Achievements Golden Plate Award, Hall of Fame Award for Scientific Achievements, Wilson S. Stone Memorial Award for Biomedical Research and Lois Pope Award Annual LIFE International Research Award (2002). In 2001, he was featured on the cover of Time Magazine as one of 18 of “America’s Best in Science and Medicine.” He was also featured in Madison Magazine as “Man of the Year” and in People Magazine as “One of the most intriguing people of 2001.” In 2007, “Science,” “Nature”, “Time”, “USA Today” and the “Independent” also listed his work as one of the most significant scientific advances in 2007. In 2008, the Time Magazine named him one of the world’s 100 most influential people, while his derivation of human induced pluripotent stem cells was highlighted in “Science’s” scientific breakthrough of the year. Professor Thomson has more than 127 papers and holds 14 patents. He is also a founder and Chief Scientific Officer for Cellular Dynamics International Company, which produces derivatives of human induced pluripotent stem cells for drug discovery and toxicity testing.
Professor James Thomson has been awarded the prize for his groundbreaking discovery, that induced pluripotent stern cells (iPS) could be generated from human somatic cells. This important breakthrough has revitalized interest in stern cell biology, with many laboratories re-investigating the possible use of these cells in the modeling and treatment of human diseases.