The 2010 Laureates / Advanced Technology Category / Biotechnology and Medical Technology


Shinya Yamanaka

Japan / September 4, 1962
Medical Scientist
Professor, Kyoto University

"Development of Technology for Generating Induced Pluripotent Stem (iPS) Cells"
By introducing just four transcription factor genes into dermal fibroblasts, Dr. Yamanaka succeeded in producing induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells, which exhibit a pluripotency similar to that of embryonic stem (ES) cells. The iPS cell technology is now expected not only to expand the possibilities of regenerative medicine, but also to make significant contributions to the rapid progress of medical science in general.


Development of iPS Cell Technology to Expand the Possibilities of Regenerative Medicine

The advent of "omnipotent" cells

The human body is composed of some 60 trillion cells in more than 200 varieties, which together form and function as the skin, muscles, neurons, bones and organs. Somatic cells are produced from one fertilized egg, which undergoes repeated cell division to acquire specialized functions (differentiation). If it were possible to create cells artificially that, like a fertilized egg, could then differentiate into various somatic cells, they would be of invaluable benefit for the treatment of diseases and injuries.
Such "dream cells" became a reality in 1981, when embryonic stem cells (ES cells) were derived from mouse embryos, followed by human ES cells in 1998. ES cells, however, are not without ethical concerns, as they are created by removing part of a fertilized egg and culturing it. There is also the risk of immunological rejection of transplanted cells, thus creating an immense obstacle that has stood in the way of their practical use in regenerative medicine.

Dr. Yamanaka's achievements

The announcement of the birth of a cloned sheep in 1997 made it known that it is possible to reprogram a differentiated mammalian cell back into a pluripotent state similar to that of an ES cell. Because of this, Dr. Yamanaka hypothesized that if he could identify genes that are important for ES cells, he could transfer those genes to a differentiated somatic cell and create such a state in that cell, thus avoiding the problems inherent in ES cells.
Having discovered that it takes only four genes to reprogram cells, without the use of any eggs or embryos, he succeeded in generating pluripotent cells that can transform into any kind of mouse cell by introducing these four genes into mouse dermal fibroblast cells. Dr. Yamanaka named these cells induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells, and his achievement was published in the science journal Cell in August 2006. He then generated iPS cells from human fibroblasts using a similar technique, the news of which spread around the world almost instantly in November 2007.

The potential of iPS cells

Dr. Yamanaka says that the goal of his research is to help patients. The iPS cell technology is expected to have many applications, including elucidating the causes of diseases, developing new therapies, improving efficiency in drug development, and expanding the future potential of regenerative medicine.
Kyoto University's Center for iPS Cell Research and Application (CiRA) was recently established to take a leading role in the practical development of iPS cell technology for the enhancement of human health and well-being. Dr. Yamanaka serves as its first director.

For more details, see the Achievements.

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