Scientist sues Nobel assembly for awarding medicine prize to wrong people

BMJ 2012; 345 doi: (Published 11 December 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;345:e8414
  1. Clare Dyer
  1. 1BMJ

The body that awards the Nobel prize for physiology or medicine is being sued for defamation by a researcher who alleges that the two scientists jointly awarded this year’s prize have been wrongly credited with work he did a decade before.

Rongxiang Xu, a Chinese scientist working in California, filed the lawsuit at the Superior Court of California, Orange County.

This year’s prize has gone to John Gurdon, of the Gurdon Institute at Cambridge University, and Shinya Yamanaka, of Kyoto University.1 They share the $1.2m (£0.7m; €0.9m) award for discoveries showing that mature cells can be reprogrammed to become pluripotent, with the ability to grow into different tissues in the body.

In announcing the prize in October the Nobel jury said, “Their findings have revolutionised our understanding of how cells and organisms develop” and “created new opportunities to study diseases and develop methods for diagnosis and therapy.”

In a statement announcing the lawsuit Xu described himself as the founder of “human body regenerative restoration science” and said that he had discovered “regenerative” cells in 1984 while studying treatments that have benefited 20 million burns victims in 73 countries.

The Nobel Assembly at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, which chooses the laureates in medicine or physiology, said in a statement, “We have not yet received any such lawsuit and have not, therefore, been able to assess it in detail. The name of the plaintiff has never been put forward to us previously.

“The prize has been very well received and has obtained massive support by the international scientific community.”

Xu said in his statement, “My main priority for filing this suit was to clarify the academy’s mistaken and misleading statements for the preservation of humanity and future generations.”

The Nobel Assembly’s announcement last October cited Gurdon’s experiment with a frog as far back as 1962 and Yamanaka’s discovery in 2006 that mature cells in mice could be reprogrammed to become pluripotent stem cells, immature cells that are able to develop into all types of cells in the body.

The Nobel laureates were presented with their award at a ceremony in Stockholm on 10 December.


Cite this as: BMJ 2012;345:e8414