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Shinya Yamanaka Interview: 2012 Nobel Prize Winner On Stem-Cells, Ethics And The Future Of Medicine

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Personalised medicine is almost here, according to the 2012 winner of the Nobel prize for medicine.

Shinya Yamanaka was jointly awarded the 2012 Nobel prize for his work on stem cell research with John Gurdon from the UK.

Yamanaka led research which successfully changed adult cells into stem cells, which can be used to form any other kind of cell.

The "revolutionary" breakthrough could mean an end to the ethical debate over the use of embryonic stem cells, which has been opposed by many religious groups.

In a conversation with Technology Academy Finland (TAF) at the time of his winning the Millennium Technology Prize earlier this year, and published today exclusively by the Huffington Post, Shinya Yamanaka said a future in which medical drugs are made to order is closer than ever.

"I think that personalised medicine would become readily available in the not distant future," he said.

"My goals over the decade include to develop new drugs to intractable diseases by using iPS cell technology and to conduct clinical trials using it on a few patients with Parkinson's disease, diabetes or blood diseases."

Read the full interview below, courtesy of TAF.

What is the potential now for your discovery and what is the most exciting potential outcome from your point of view?

iPS cells can become a powerful tool to develop new drugs to cure intractable diseases because they can be made from patients' somatic cells. The patient-specific iPS cells can change into any type of cell in the body, and researchers can use the iPS cell-derived functional cells for toxicological and side-effect testing or drug compound screening. Those cells would also be used for cell transplantation in the future once their safety is ensured.

In terms of the ethical implications of the work, does the fact that fertilised embryos do not have to be used in research mean that countries like the US and others with similar religious concerns are particularly keen to embrace your technology?

I hope that iPS cells would replace most, if not all, of applications of ES cells in the near future.

Researchers should always consider ethical concerns on scientific research and disclose their data to the public. Scientists also need to discuss issues surrounding their research with those who are concerned.

What are the implications and spin-off benefits/areas of stem cell research that we are now seeing and are likely to see in future?

Taking advantage of the concept of iPS cell generation methods, some researchers have reported that they have succeeded in generating functional cells such as neurons and cardiac muscle cells directly from skin cells, without making iPS cells.

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Above: Yamanaka is congratulated by costumed researchers and students of his laboratory at Kyoto University in Kyoto

How do you see the future for your stem cell development work?

My goals over the decade include to develop new drugs to intractable diseases by using iPS cell technology and to conduct clinical trials using it on a few patients with Parkinson's disease, diabetes or blood diseases. We are working hard towards them.

Bearing in mind the vast global changes we saw brought about by technology in the 20th century, could similar leaps be made in the 21st century?

I think that in the 21st century, medical biology will advance at a more rapid pace than before.

Where do you see technology innovations coming from?

I think that personalised medicine would become readily available in the not distant future.

What do you consider to be the biggest life-enhancing scientific development/technological innovation, both in your own field and others?

I think that the discoveries of antibiotics and vaccines have contributed to the improvement of the quality of life, making it possible to prevent contagious diseases.

What technology do you consider has brought about the biggest changes to life as we live it today?

Deep sequencing technology, which determines the order of bases in DNA, can become a key to understanding of the secrets of life, revealing subtle sequence variants in a single cell.

Where are the new frontiers in technology, what trends are exciting you now, again this can be in your field and any others that have struck you as being of particular interest?

What has excited me now is to use both iPS cell technology and deep sequencing technology, which would contribute to the development of medicine. Scientists are now revealing that there are sequence variations in each somatic cell in each individual. I predict that we will learn more about the sequence variation in the person.