MTP 2012 Winner Surprised by the Stem Cells Research’s Rapid Pace

Dr. Shinya Yamanaka. Photo: Center for iPS Cell and Application, Kyoto University.

Dr. Shinya Yamanaka received the 2012 Millennium Technology Prize for the ethical stem cells research he pioneered in, and focuses now on making the process more efficient.

Shinya Yamanaka speaks at Paavo Nurmi symposium in Turku, Finland on 31 August. Technology Academy Finland interviewed Dr. Yamanaka before the start of the three-day symposium.

1) You were awarded the Millennium Technology Prize in 2012 for your ethical stem cells research, your main discovery being that mature cells can be reprogrammed to become pluripotent. How has the Millennium Technology Prize affected your research since?

”It was extremely honored for me to have received the prestigious prize in Finland. I felt really privileged to become a recipient [at the same time] with Mr. Linus Torvalds, who developed Linux kernel operating system. The prize not only became a major encouragement to me and my colleagues to advance iPS cell research but also greatly increased the recognition of the new technology among people in Europe.”

“I hope that new findings will help develop new therapies and new drugs to cure diseases.”

2) What are your main research areas at the moment?

”My research group now focuses on elucidation of the mechanism of the cellular reprogramming process, which will contribute to generate safer iPS cells [induced pluripotent stem cells] with higher efficiency. Another major task for me is the management of our institution, the Center for iPS Cell Research and Application (CiRA), Kyoto University. CiRA has about 30 research groups and dozens of research support officials. It is inevitable to provide better environment to them to realize advancement of iPS cell research towards medical applications at an earliest stage.”

3) How, in your opinion, will the stem cells research develop in the near future? What could be the possible main breakthroughs?

”As many researchers around the world are working hard on stem cell research including those using iPS cells, I hope that new findings will contribute to develop new therapies such as regenerative medicine and new drugs to cure diseases including intractable diseases, and injuries.”

4) You will be in Turku, Finland the 31 August to talk in Paavo Nurmi Symposium that focuses on new technologies on heart diseases. How can stem cells help in heart problems now and in the future?

”iPS cells can be generated from a patient with a heart disease. Differentiating the disease-specific iPS cells into the cells of the diseased tissue, a research group at CiRA uses such cells to understand the causes of the heart disease and find drug candidate compounds to improve the conditions. iPS cell technology can contribute to reducing the time and the cost for drug screening.”

5) What is the most surprising purpose that the stem cells technology have been used for?

”What made me most surprized is that iPS cell research has advanced at a more rapid pace than I expected when my research group published the first iPS cell paper exactly a decade ago. In 2014, a group in Japan conducted the first clinical research and successfully transplanted iPS cell-derived retinal cells into a patient.  I hope that other researchers will follow the move to provide new therapies to various diseases.”

Text: Laura Manas