Dr. Yamanaka was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his discovery that adult somatic cells can be reprogrammed into pluripotent cells. By introducing the genes of four factors, he induced the skin cells of adult mice to become like embryonic stem cells, which can become any cell type of the body. He called these modified skin cells, induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells. This iPS cell technology represents an entirely new platform for fundamental studies of developmental biology. Rather than using disease models made in yeast, flies, mice or other animals, iPS cells can be taken from patients with a specific disease. As a result, they contain a complete set of the genes that led to that disease—representing a more accurate model for studying disease development and for developing new drugs and treatments.
Dr. Yamanaka’s current research focuses on ways to more efficiently and accurately generate cells resembling embryonic stem cells by reprogramming somatic cells. He seeks to understand the molecular mechanisms that underlie pluripotency and to identify the factors that induce reprogramming. In addition to the Nobel Prize, Dr. Yamanaka has received many awards and honors, including the Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award, Wolf Prize in Medicine, Millennium Technology Award, and Shaw Prize.