Shinya Yamanaka's Road to the 2012 Nobel Prize in Medicine

A Record of Recognition and Rewards in Stem Cell Research

October 08, 2012
Shinya Yamanaka, MD, PhD

Shinya Yamanaka, MD, PhD

Shinya Yamanaka, MD, PhD, a senior investigator and the L.K. Whittier Foundation Investigator in Stem Cell Biology at the Gladstone Institute of Cardiovascular Disease and a professor of anatomy at UCSF, gained international acclaim in 2006 when he developed the method for inducing skin cells from mice into becoming like pluripotent stem cells and called them iPS cells.

In 2007, Yamanaka did the same with adult human skin cells.

Yamanaka’s experiments revealed that adult skin cells, when treated with four pieces of DNA (now called the Yamanaka factors), can induce skin cells to revert back to their pluripotent state. His discovery has since led to a variety of methods for reprogramming adult cells into stem cells that can become virtually any cell type — such as a beating heart cell or a neuron that can transmit chemical signals in the brain. This allows researchers to create patient-specific cell lines that can be studied and used in everything from drug therapies to regenerative medicine.

Here's a look at Yamanaka's record of recognition for his revolutionary stem cell discoveries:

Shinya Yamanaka Receives Millenium Technology Award: In June 2012, Yamanaka was awarded the prize for his discovery of a way to turn adult skin cells into cells that act like embryonic stem cells. This discovery has since altered the fields of cell biology and stem cell research, offering new hope for the future of both personalized and regenerative medicine.

Yamanaka and Linus Torvalds, creator of Linux, were named laureates — or finalists — for the 2012 prize in April. For the first time in the award’s history, both laureates were named joint Grand Prize winners by the President of the Republic of Finland. Yamanaka and Torvalds shared 1.2 million Euros.

The Millennium Technology Prize is Finland’s tribute to technological innovation that significantly improves the quality of human life today and for future generations. Read more.

Shinya Yamanaka Receives Kyoto Prize for Advanced Techology: In June 2010, he received the esteemed Kyoto Prize for Advanced Technology for significant contribution to humankind’s scientific, cultural and spiritual development. Read more

Shinya Yamanaka Receives Two International Awards: In February 2010, Yamanaka was been named to receive two prestigious awards: the King Faisal International Prize for Medicine and the BBVA Foundation Frontier of Knowledge and Culture Award in Medicine.

The King Faisal Foundation named Yamanaka as co-winner of the 2011 King Faisal International Prize for Medicine. He shared the award with James Thomson of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who discovered stem cells. The Faisal Prize embodies the foundation’s belief that “the highest aspirations of mankind are realized through the collective efforts of outstanding individuals.”

The BBVA Foundation awards recognize and encourage world-class research and artistic creation, prizing contributions of lasting impact for their originality, theoretical significance and ability to push back the frontiers of the known world. The awardees divided a cash prize of more than $3 million euros. Read more.

Shinya Yamanaka Receives March of Dime Prize in Developmental Biology: In February 2010, he won the March of Dimes Prize in Developmental Biology for his pioneering stem cell work. The March of Dimes Prize is a $250,000 cash award and a silver medal in the design of the Roosevelt dime, in honor of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who founded the March of Dimes.

The March of Dimes Prize in Developmental Biology has been awarded annually since 1996 to investigators whose research has profoundly advanced the science that underlies the understanding of birth defects. The March of Dimes Foundation created the Prize as a tribute to Jonas Salk, MD, who received foundation support for his work to create a polio vaccine. Read more

Shinya Yamanaka Wins Lasker Award for Stem Cell Research: In September 2009, he was recognized for a revolutionary achievement in the field of stem cell science with a prestigious Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award.

Yamanaka’s discoveries have the potential to one day lead to new cell-based therapies for a variety of human diseases.

In announcing the award, shared by Yamanaka and John Gurdon of Cambridge University, the Lasker Foundation cited contributions of the two scientists to the understanding of “nuclear reprogramming.” Read more

Shinya Yamanaka Wins Prestigious Shaw Prize for Stem Cell Discoveries: In June 2008, he was awarded the prestigious Shaw Prize for his contributions in reprogramming adult skin cells to pluripotent, embryonic-like stem cells. He received half of the $1 million award. Cloning pioneers Ian Wilmut and Keith Campbell split the other half of the prize for their landmark generation of the now famous sheep, Dolly.

The Shaw Prize, established under the auspices of Run Run Shaw in November 2002, is an international award to honor individuals who are currently active in their respective fields and who have made outstanding contributions in the biomedical sciences and innovations in clinical medicine. Read more.

Shinya Yamanaka Reprograms Human Adult Cells into Embryonic-Like Cells: In November 2007, Yamanaka reported that he and his Kyoto University colleagues successfully reprogrammed human adult cells to function like pluripotent embryonic stem (ES) cells. Because it circumvents much of the controversy and restrictions regarding generation of ES cells from human embryos, this breakthrough, reported in the journal Cell, should accelerate the pace of stem cell research. Read more