Hans Robert Schöler

Robert Koch Award 2008, together with Shinya Yamanaka and Irving Weissman

On November 14, the Robert Koch Foundation awarded the 2008 Robert Koch Award, endowed with a total of €100,000, jointly to Professor Hans Robert Schöler, Professor Irving Weissman and Professor Shinya Yamanaka.

Professor Schöler, who is Director of the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Biomedicine in Münster, received the prize in recognition of his pioneering research into the isolation, induction and functional analysis of stem cells. His scientific achievements include the discovery of the transcription factor Oct4, which plays a key role in the pluripotency of human embryonic stem cells. This discovery has served as a basis for further research, including his work on cell reprogramming. Professor Schöler was recently able to show that, with the aid of just two genes known as Oct4 und Klf4, adult mouse cells can be returned to a primordial embryonic-like state, with markedly reduced use of viruses. There are many arguments in favor of dispensing with such gene vectors. It would avoid one of the major risks associated with future stem cell therapies, whereby the injected cells develop into tumors. Professor Schöler’s long-term goal is to transform many different somatic cells into pluripotent stem cells and, as a result, to develop a safer therapy for many diseases.