The co-winner of this year’s Nobel Prize in medicine or physiology isn’t satisfied with just winning the most prestigious award in his field or even the successful generation of induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells). Shinya Yamanaka is very much eager to put his discovery to use to cure debilitating diseases. He currently heads Kyoto University’s Center for iPS Cell Research and Application (CiRA) and they are hard at work in conducting studies to examine conditions and screen drugs for motor neuron diseases.
A few days before the awarding ceremony of the Nobel prize, Yamanaka conducted a lecture at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm. He shared with the audience who were the people who influenced him and led to his discovery of the iPS cells. Katsuyuki Miura, a professor at Osaka City University, and Tom Innerarity, a senior investigator at the California-based Gladstone Institutes assigned him experiments and even though the results were far from their hypotheses, these two men encouraged him to pursue that line of experimentation. The other “great teacher” who led him to unexpected paths and results was nature itself.
It took Yamanaka six years to identify key factors needed to reprogram somatic cells into iPS cells which led to an alternative to destroying human embryos without the moral and ethical issues of stem cell technologies. He credits the young researchers in his Kyoto University laboratory for helping him achieve this feat in a short time because he was expecting to finish the study in at least 10 or 20 years. But because of the hard work of his team, particularly Kazutoshi Takahashi, a Kyoto University lecturer and two other researchers.