Kyoto Shimbun 2012.10.8 News

Prof. Yamanaka of Kyoto University Wins Nobel Prize
Prize in Medicine for iPS Cells

On October 8, the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden announced that Shinya Yamanaka, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Center for iPS Cell Research and Application (CiRA), Kyoto University, was awarded the 2012 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. The prize motivation was "for the discovery that mature cells can be reprogrammed to become pluripotent." Sir John B. Gurdon, University of Cambridge, who has led nuclear reprogramming research on cloning frogs, is the co-recipient. The award ceremony is scheduled to be held in Stockholm, Sweden, on December 10 and the prize of Swedish Kronor eight million (approximately 94 million yen) will be given to the winners.

By introducing four genes called "Yamanaka factors: -Oct3/4, Klf4, Sox2 and c-Myc-," Professor Yamanaka has led the world in realizing the technique through which somatic cells, like skin tissue, are capable of differentiating into any type of cells in the human body, and named them iPS cells (induced pluripotent stem cells). This breakthrough achievement, which will lead to resolving the probable causes of incurable diseases and regenerative medicine, as well as the development of new drugs, opens the door to new medical possibilities.

Yamanaka is the 19th Japanese winner of the Nobel Prize after Akira Suzuki and Eiichi Negishi who won the 2010 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. He is also the second to receive the prize in Physiology or Medicine after Susumu Tonegawa, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who won the prize in 1987. Ten out of the past 18 winners have been associated with Kyoto.

Professor Yamanaka comprehensively analyzed genes working in ES cells (embryonic stem cells), which are capable of differentiating into any cell in the body. He selected four genes important for initialization and discovered that cells acquire the capacity to become different cells, such as myocardial cells, neurons and others, after introducing them into skin cells via viruses and letting them work.

He first succeeded with mouse iPS cells and announced the results in August 2006, and then also succeeded with human iPS cells in November 2007. The announcement made headlines around the world, and he received many congratulatory messages, including ones from the current U.S. president at that time, George W. Bush and the Pope.

There are ethical concerns about using ES cells as they are formed by using fertilized eggs, and there may be rejection as the cells of another person are used. These types of problems would be resolved with iPS cells as they are formed using one's own cells. However, there is a possibility of canceration in the cells and the development of a secure method for generation of iPS cells still remains an unsolved issue.

Bringing this closer to the realization of regenerative medicine, he succeeded in functional recovery of monkeys with spinal cord injuries through collaborative research with Keio University, and Riken is scheduled to conduct a clinical trial for treatment of age-related macular degeneration with iPS cells.

Furthermore, another Kyoto University group succeeded in generating sperm or eggs from mouse iPS cells. This result is expected to be applied in assisted reproduction technology.

Kyoto University has obtained dominant patents on the method for iPS cell generation in Japan, Europe and the U.S. Further progress, including new drug development, is expected.

There have been growing expectations that Shinya Yamanaka would receive the Nobel Prize as he has won a series of international awards, including the Lasker Award and Kyoto Prize.

■Shinya Yamanaka was born September 4, 1962 in Osaka Prefecture. After graduating from Tennoji Junior High School and Tennoji High School, both attached to Osaka Kyoiku University, he enrolled in the School of Medicine, Kobe University, and graduated in 1987. He received his Ph.D from the Graduate School of Medicine, Osaka City University after completing his residency at the Osaka National Hospital. He then did a postdoctoral fellowship at the Gladstone Institute of Cardiovascular Disease in San Francisco, was appointed as a professor at Nara Institute of Science and Technology, which was followed by appointment in 2004 as a professor at the Institute for Frontier Medical Sciences, Kyoto University. In 2008, he became the director of the Center for iPS Cell Research and Application (CiRA), Kyoto University, and has remained in his present post since 2010.

Discovering that particular genes in ES cells are required for obtaining pluripotentiality, he succeeded in obtaining pluripotentiality from mice by introducing four iPS cells in 2006 and named them "iPS cells." He was also successful with human cells in 2007.

Under intensifying competition, for example, American researchers simultaneously publishing their theses, he appealed for "Team Japan" research and the Japanese government has provided support for his research. The Center for iPS Cell Research and Application (CiRA), iCeMS, Kyoto University, was established in January 2008, and it was reorganized as the Center for iPS Cell Research and Application (CiRA), Kyoto University, in April 2010.

He has received numerous awards, including the Twenty-Fifth Osaka Science Prize, Japan in 2007; the Medal with Purple Ribbon, Robert Koch Prize, Shimadzu Award, and Kyoto Newspaper Taisho, Japan, all in 2008; the Gairdner International Award in 2009; Person of Cultural Merit, Japan and 26th annual Kyoto Prize in Advanced Technology, Japan, both in 2010; the Wolf Prize in Medicine in 2011; and the Millennium Technology Prize in 2012. He also shared the Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award, which is known as the gateway to success for the Nobel Prize, with Sir John B. Gurdon in 2009.

He is a sportsman, who used to dedicate himself to practicing judo and playing rugby. He completed the full distance as a support ambassador at the Kyoto Marathon last March and also raised contributions for iPS cell research to collect approximately 10 million yen. He is a fan of Senichi Hoshino, a manager of the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles, and his office is decorated with Hanshin Tigers goods, the team which Mr. Hoshino previously managed. He lives in Osaka City and has a wife and two daughters.

(translated by Galileo, Inc.)

Photo= Professor Yamanaka smiles at a press conference after the Nobel Prize was announced (8:23 p.m., October 8, Kyoto University, Sakyo Ward, Kyoto)