Health‎ > ‎

Japanese scientist shares Nobel for stem cell breakthroughs

posted 8 Oct 2012, 09:00 by Mpelembe   [ updated 8 Oct 2012, 09:01 ]

Japanese scientist Shinya Yamanaka "grateful" for his Nobel Prize win, shared with a UK colleague for discovering that adult cells can turn back into stem cells.

SHOWS: KYOTOJAPAN (OCTOBER 8, 2012) (TV OSAKA) - Japanese stem cell researcher Shinya Yamanaka said on Monday (October 8) he felt "a great deal of responsibility" after winning a Nobel Prize alongside British scientist John Gurdon.

The pair were awarded the the $1.2 million Nobel Prize for Medicine for discovering ways to create tissue that would act like embryonic cells, without the need to harvest embryos.

Kyoto University professor, the 50-year-old Shinya Yamanaka said it was a great joy to have been recognised.

"If I had to sum up my thoughts on winning in just one word, it would have to be '"Gratitude"," Yamanaka said.

"This brings me great joy, but at the same time I feel a great sense of responsibility. Stem cell research is still a very new field."

Yamanaka and Gurdon found that adult cells can be transformed back into embryo-likestem cells that may one day regrow tissue in damaged brains, hearts or other organs.

All of the body's tissue starts as stem cells, before developing into skin, blood, nerves, muscle and bone.

Gurdon began the work in the field 50 years ago which Yamanaka then capped with a 2006 experiment that transformed the field of "regenerative medicine" - the field of curing disease by regrowing healthy tissue.

The big hope for stem cells is that they can be used to replace damaged tissue in everything from spinal cord injuries to Parkinson's disease.

"The reality is that both medicine and drug research has such great potential. We have not even really begun to explore all the possibilities in medical and pharmaceutical development," Yamanaka said.

The new stem cells are known as "induced pluripotency stem cells", or iPS cells.

The science is still in its early stages, and among important concerns is the fear that iPS cells could grow out of control and develop into tumours.

Nevertheless, in the six years since Yamanaka published his findings the discoveries have already produced dramatic advances in medical research, with none of the political and ethical issues raised by embryo harvesting, previously the only way to create stem cells.