Congratulations to Dr. Shinya Yamanaka, winner of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine

We offer our heartfelt congratulations to Dr. Shinya Yamanaka, Professor at Kyoto University, on being awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.

This year, the prize has been awarded for the discovery that mature cells can be reprogrammed to become pluripotent.*1 I believe the creation of the world's first artificially induced pluripotent stem cells, which are of such great use to medical treatment, is evaluated as a development of huge significance.

JST has been supporting Dr. Yamanaka's research since 2003, and in that period, Induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells) were first created in 2006. Impressed by these results, other countries engaged in iPS cell research en masse and international research competition was begun. In response to this, JST further strengthened its support of Dr. Yamanaka and research into iPS cells, and as a result iPS cell research is currently demonstrating great progress.

Having supported the research in this way, from the point of view of JST Dr. Yamanaka's achievements are twofold:

Firstly, by using iPS cells we can better understand the causes of various incurable diseases, such as ALS (Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), etc., and the development of medical treatment can thereby be advanced. The world's first clinical study into "age-related macular degeneration", an eye condition caused by advanced aging, is planned to be carried out in Japan, attempting to realize "dream regeneration treatments" using one's own cells. In doing so, they are trying to bring about a great medical revolution.

Secondly, Dr. Yamanaka's achievements can be seen as an example of the success of science and technology policy in Japan, which aims for innovation and social change through science and basic research. It is hoped that the awarding of this Nobel Prize will further inspire mission-oriented basic research in other fields.

In the future, JST will not only contribute to the development of iPS cell research in Japan, but will also endeavor to foster the overall development of science and technology.

October 8, 2012
Michiharu Nakamura
President of Japan Science and Technology Agency

Dr. Shinya Yamanaka (center) and president of Japan Science and Technology Agency Michiharu Nakamura (left), president of Kyoto University Hiroshi Matsumoto (right)
Dr. Shinya Yamanaka (center) and president of Japan Science and Technology Agency Michiharu Nakamura (left), president of Kyoto University Hiroshi Matsumoto (right)

(supplementary information)
Relationship with JST

From October 2003 until March 2009, Dr. Yamanaka was a research leader on the topic of "Generation of Pluripotent Stem Cells for Clinical Application", within the "Translational Research for Intractable Immune Disorders and Infectious Diseases" field of research of the Core Research for Evolutional Science and Technology (CREST)*2 program, one of Japan Science and Technology Agency's team-oriented strategic basic research programs. While in that role, he conducted research aimed at producing new type stem cells that were an ideal alternative to embryonic stem (ES) cells which are associated with various ethical issues, and their application in regenerative medicine. In that research, Dr. Yamanaka demonstrated exceptional insight and leadership ability and succeeded in creating iPS cells as an ideal stem cell, taking a big step towards the realization of successful regenerative medical treatments, such as transplants, etc.

In April 2008, taking over from the CREST research achievements, the "Yamanaka iPS Cell Project" (supervised by Dr. Shinya Yamanaka)*3 was launched at JST to further accelerate research into iPS cells. In the same year, iPS cell fields of research were established in both the CREST*4 and PRESTO*5 programs. Furthermore, in 2009 to promote the development of industry, the "Strategic Promotion of Innovative Research and Development" (S-Innovation) program*6for acceleration of industry-academia innovation through cooperation, was also implemented.

*1By introducing a combination of 4 genes into skin fibroblasts from a mouse and a human, stem cells with high levels of pluripotency and proliferative potential, as in ES cells, were successfully induced. Dr. Yamanaka's research team named these cells induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells.
*2 Team-Oriented Core Research for Evolutional Science and Technology (CREST):
Core Research for Evolutional Science and Technology is a JST initiative for top-down promotion of problem-solving basic research to realize national policy goals, intended to create "technology seeds" that are useful to industry and society. Team-Oriented CREST is the promotion of research by assembling industrial-governmental-academic research teams under an overall research leader and establishing areas of research, in order to achieve strategic goals to realize our own country's social and economic needs.
*3Yamanaka iPS Cell Project:
This is a special project established on a foundation of the achievements of the CREST "Generation of Pluripotent Stem Cells for Clinical Application" research project. The project aims for the practical application of human iPS cells and development of human iPS cell induction techniques that will serve as a global standard, and also conducts research to establish safer methods of creating iPS cells and to evaluate that level of safety.
*4Individual-Oriented Precursory Research for Embryonic Science and Technology (PRESTO):
As one of JST's strategic basic research programs, PRESTO conducts research based on individual researchers' original ideas, whereas CREST forms teams to conduct research.
*5 Research areas of this organization in the iPS cell field
CREST: "Fundamental Technologies for Medicine Concerning the Generation and Regulation of Induced Pluripotent Stem (iPS) Cells"
(Research Supervisor: Dr. Toshio Suda, Professor at Keio University School of Medicine)
PRESTO: "Understanding Life by iPS Cells Technology"
(Research Supervisor: Dr. Shinichi Nishikawa, Deputy Director at the Center for Developmental Biology, RIKEN)
*6Strategic Promotion of Innovative Research and Development (S-Innovation) program for acceleration of industry-academia innovation:
A program to push for innovation as a target of the research and development themes set in light of the achievements of JST's strategic basic research programs. It aims to establish technology that can form a foundation for industry creation and practical application, by consistent, long-term and seamless promotion of research and development.

An episode from the time the iPS cell project was selected for the CREST program:
-Comments of Prof. Tadamitsu Kishimoto, Research Supervisor (excerpt from the commemorative publication marking the 12 year anniversary of the CREST program)

At that time, Professor Yamanaka was an assistant professor at the Nara Institute of Science and Technology, with two graduate students, and just barely getting by with research. He proposed a topic "Is it possible to return differentiated cells to their original state by inserting genes characteristic of ES cells into mature cells?" in my area of research of "Intractable Immune Disorders and Infectious Diseases", but there were those who said that the field was different. At that time, everyone thought that returning differentiated cells to their original state was an interesting idea, but impossible, so nobody touched it. But these were fresh and unique ideas in his proposal, the research could be done precisely, with a proven record including publication in the major journal "Cell". So, I thought that at least one person should go into it, and I decided to adopt his proposal by Research Supervisor's prerogative. It was then that the project was selected for the CREST program, and Dr. Yamanaka was invited to be a professor at the Institute for Frontier Medical Sciences at Kyoto University. With more graduate students and greater manpower, the research accelerated. That is how iPS cells were discovered.