The non-profit Inamori Foundation (President: Dr. Kazuo Inamori) today announced that Dr. Shinya Yamanaka will receive its 26th annual Kyoto Prize in Advanced Technology, which for 2010 focuses on the fields of Biotechnology and Medical Technology. Dr. Yamanaka, 47, will receive the award for his pioneering work in developing a technology to generate pluripotent stem cells that does not require the use of human embryos.
Yamanaka currently serves as a senior investigator at the Gladstone Institute of Cardiovascular Disease in San Francisco; a professor at Kyoto University; and the director of CiRA, Kyoto University's Center for iPS Cell Research and Application.
Dr. Yamanaka's Work
Pluripotent stem cells are believed to hold tremendous future promise for treating human injury and disease because of their ability to grow into virtually any type of differentiated cell. For years, however, research in this area has been impeded by two concerns. The first is ethical, since traditional technologies have derived stem cells from human embryos, which are destroyed in the process. The second concern is the risk of immunological rejection, since transplanted embryonic stem (ES) cells are not the patient's own cells.
Determined to find a way of developing stem cells that did not destroy human embryos, Dr. Yamanaka turned his research toward "reprogramming" adult skin cells. By introducing just four transcription factor genes into dermal fibroblasts, he succeeded in creating "induced pluripotent" stem (iPS) cells, which exhibit pluripotency similar to that of embryonic stem (ES) cells. The potential of this achievement includes the long-term possibility of future stem cell therapies based on a patient's own cells.
It has long been recognized that the expression profile of the genome can be reprogrammed into a non-differentiated state if a differentiated cell nucleus is transplanted into an enucleated ovum. Dr. Yamanaka approached his research from the hypothesis that the same factors which maintain the pluripotency of ES cells may also be able to reprogram a differentiated cell — for example, an adult skin cell — back into its embryonic state. He identified 24 candidate genes expressed specifically in ES cells. After carrying out numerous experiments on such genes, he finally succeeded in generating iPS cells with a growth potential similar to that of ES cells by introducing just four genes* into dermal fibroblast cells, initially of mice. The resultant iPS cells proved to have both the capacity for self-renewal and pluripotency. Dr. Yamanaka's research group then went on to generate iPS cells from human adult skin cells using a similar technique.
Dr. Yamanaka's iPS cell technology holds great long-term expectations for revealing the pathologies of diseases that afflict humans — like type I diabetes, Parkinson's disease and osteoporosis, among others. Additionally, it offers the hope of providing insights into possible future treatments for diseases that are currently considered incurable, by giving scientists the tools to reprogram cells back to their embryonic state and observe them as they develop in the lab. The iPS cell technology is expected to aid in the screening process for drug discovery and drug toxicity testing, which will allow researchers to identify drugs that have the greatest chance of succeeding and the fewest side effects. Finally, in assessing the most long-term impact, Dr. Yamanaka's work has the potential to expand the future possibilities of regenerative medicine, and the medical sciences overall.
Other 2010 Kyoto Prize Laureates
In addition to Dr. Yamanaka, this year's Kyoto Prize laureates include:
- In "Basic Sciences:" Dr. László Lovász (citizenship: Hungary and U.S.), 62, director of the Mathematical Institute at Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest, and president of the International Mathematics Union, who has provided a link among numerous branches of the mathematical sciences in terms of algorithms through his advanced research on discrete structures.
- In "Arts and Philosophy:" Mr. William Kentridge (citizenship: South Africa), 55, a visual artist from Johannesburg, South Africa, whose wide-ranging activities encompass animation, stage direction and writing.