A regenerative cell scientist is suing the organization that awards the Nobel Prizes for libel and unfair competition.
In the suit filed last week in the Orange County court system in California, Rongxiang Xu alleges that the Nobel Assembly incorrectly credited the winners of the 2012 prize in medicine or physiology for stem cell research that he actually pioneered a decade earlier.
Xu, who works in Los Angeles, is founder and chairman of the Chinese regenerative medicine company MEBO International Group. The company sells a proprietary moist-exposed burn ointment (MEBO) that induces "physiological repair and regeneration of extensively wounded skin," according to the company's website. Application of the wound ointment, along with other treatments, reportedly induces embryonic epidermal stem cells to grow in adult human skin cells.
In his suit against the Nobel Assembly, Xu claims that he published research in 1984 that demonstrated that stable, differentiated cells could be reverted to a pluripotent state. Overall, he believes that his methods established "human body regenerative restoration science."
In October 2012, researchers John Gurdon and Shinya Yamanaka won the 2012 Nobel Prize in Medicine or Physiology "for the discovery that mature cells can be reprogrammed to become pluripotent." The award recognized Gurdon's 1962 discovery that a cell's maturation could be reversed and Yamanaka's 2006 discovery of how to reprogram mature cells into less-developed cells.
"Gurdon and Yamanaka…have demonstrated that the usually very stable differentiated state [of a cell] can be unlocked because it harbors a potential for reversion of pluripotency," wrote the Nobel Assembly.
In the document that explains Xu's suit, he argues that this statement is false. The use of the word "unlocked" adds to the inaccuracy because it "suggests that the scientists who won the Nobel Prize are harnessing an inherent ability of a somatic cell to revert to its pluripotent state through natural means that do not alter the cells' integrity," states the court document.
In contrast, Xu's team allegedly awakened intact mature somatic cells to turn to pluripotent stem cells without engineering in 2000. Therefore, Xu claims, the Nobel statement undermines his accomplishments, defaming his reputation.
He is represented by Irvine, CA-based Ardent Law Group. The lawsuit, filed December 3, demands a jury trial to determine whether the Nobel Assembly owes Xu unspecified financial damages and whether it should repeal parts of its descriptions of Gurdon’s and Yamanaka’s prize-winning work.
"Dr. Xu has no interest in challenging the Nobel Prize, in discounting the work or discoveries of the scientists who won the [Nobel Prize]. Dr. Xu's main interest is in rehabilitating his dominant position as the owner, pioneer of the scientific achievement characterized in the publication at issue," states the court document.