King's Fellow Professor Azim Surani FRS has just been awarded the prestigious McEwen Award for Innovation 2014.
The McEwen Award is given by the International Society for Stem Cell Research (ISSCR), and recognises original thinking and groundbreaking research into stem cells or regenerative medicine.
Stem cells are unspecialised cells that can renew themselves through cell division, or divide and become a specialised cell, like a brain cell or a muscle cell.
Professor Surani studies mammalian germ cells, which are the precursors of egg and sperm cells. Upon fertilisation, they generate a cell that is called 'totipotent', which means they can give rise to embryonic stem cells. The embryonic stem cells divide and become any of the types of cell needed to form a new organism.
Surani has started to uncover how these germ cells are created, what makes them totipotent, and how any cell can be changed into a totipotent cell.
His work has involved studying the epigenome, which are chemical modifications associated with genes that can alter how and which of your genes are expressed or shut down. He has uncovered the molecular mechanisms that reprogramme the epigenome to make cells totipotent.
This advance in basic knowledge may be useful towards the repair and regeneration of tissues, and may help towards a treatment for cancer, Alzheimer's and heart disease.
ISSCR president Janet Rossant said: "The ISSCR is thrilled to announce the McEwen Award for Innovation, our most prestigious award, will be presented to Azim Surani. His pioneering research, which has changed the face of epigenetics and advanced the field of stem cell biology, is a rare and significant contribution from a single individual."