Updated on 8 November 2012
Dedicated to a life of research
On various instances, Dr Shinya Yamanaka has mentioned that he gave up a career as an orthopedic surgeon to pursue his interest in research. But his landmark discovery of iPS cells resulted from some unexpected results in a research project on finding ways to lower 'bad cholesterol'. He joined the laboratory of Dr Tom Innerarity at Gladstone Institutes.
At Gladstone, his initial research led to him identifying an enzyme called APOBEC-1, which shortens the apoB protein (the principle component of bad cholesterol) in the intestines, making it less harmful. Dr Yamanaka and other scientists at the lab thought that by activating the APOBEC-1 enzyme in the liver, they could mimic the intestinal process to create a shortened apoB protein. But even though the experiments on mice showed reduction in the level of cholesterol, the mice developed liver cancer as a side-effect. The cause was found to be a dysfunctional NAT-1 protein.
This failure pushed Dr Yamanaka towards research on stem cells when he needed a genetically modified mouse that lacked the NAT-1 protein to further his work. He moved back to Japan during this time and started working on a project to identify genetic factors that allow embryonic stem cells to become other types of cells. This work finally led him to his breakthrough discovery in 2006 and 2007.
"Dr Yamanaka's stunning discovery has altered our understanding of cell biology and stem cell research," said Dr R Sanders Williams, president of the Gladstone Institutes, where Dr Yamanaka is a senior investigator. "His iPS technology has opened new prospects for drug discovery, personalized medicine and tissue regeneration. His dedication, creative genius and cross-disciplinary approach to science - nurtured during Dr Yamanaka's postdoctoral training at Gladstone - have given researchers around the world new tools to search for solutions to a host of relentless illnesses, including those on which Gladstone focuses: diseases of the heart, diseases of the brain and diseases caused by deadly viruses."