LivingShinya Yamanaka wins the BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge...

Shinya Yamanaka wins the BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award in Biomedicine

The BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award in the Biomedicine category has been awarded in its third edition toShinya Yamanaka, director of the Center for Research and Application of iPS Cells (CiRa) at the University of Kyoto (Japan), for “demonstrating thatit is possible to reprogram already differentiated cells and thus return them to their own state of pluripotent cells“.

In 2006, Shinya Yamanaka managed to generate so-called “induced pluripotent stem cells” (or “IPS cells” for short), which have the ability to become any specialized cell type. Until Yamanaka’s work, researchers believed that this ability was unique to embryonic stem cells. IPS cells, however, are obtained from adult cells, already specialized, which have been reprogrammed and have thus regained the ability to differentiate into any other cell. It is therefore abouta true paradigm shift in biology.

The international jury of the BBVA Foundation Awards, chaired by Nobel Prize winner Werner Arber, has highlighted the new perspectives derived from IPS cells, both for basic research and for clinical use, with personalized treatments and much more precise drugs. “The possibility of working with IPS cells derived from the patients themselves would avoid using patients as guinea pigs,” the jury said in the minutes. “It will make possible the search for molecules of pharmacological interest through new screening methods; and, ultimately, it will also open the door tonew specific cell therapies for each patient, in particular for neurodegenerative diseases “.

Inspired by Dolly

Yamanaka, who was very satisfied to learn of the jury’s decision to award him the award, explained that the idea of reversing the fate of already specialized cells, something considered impossible in biology, came to him when studying the experiments that led to the first clonic frogs , in the 1970s, and Dolly the sheep in 1996 . “His work made me see that it should be possible to reprogram somatic cells and return them to the embryonic state. That is why I started my project.”

The speed with which he obtained his results surprised him greatly. “At first I thought it would be very difficult, that it would take us 20 or 30 years, but it took us less than a decade,” he explains. “When we obtained the first results, I was very happy and at the same time surprised,” adds the researcher, who also confesses “impressed by the great advances that have taken place in the area in recent years.”


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