Yamanaka invented cell time machine
Dr. Shinya Yamanaka invented a time machine.
In the simplest of terms, that’s how he and his colleagues sometimes describe their work. They take full-grown cells from humans and they regress them - they send them back in time, to their earliest, embryonic state - and then they coax them into the future, into totally new types of cells.
Last week, Yamanaka was awarded the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine for his work creating induced pluripotent stem (IPS) cells - cells that are genetically engineered into blank slates, allowing them to be transformed into any type of cell in the body.
His technique could allow scientists to explore human diseases like they never have before, or help doctors regenerate tissue lost to injury or illness. Using his technology, scientists can now take a skin cell and transform it into a heart cell that will actually beat in a lab dish.
“I was here, at Gladstone, the moment I learned we got human IPS cells,” said Yamanaka last month, in an interview from his part-time office at San Francisco’s Gladstone Institutes. Yamanaka did most of the IPS cell work at his main lab in Japan.
“My colleague sent me the image, and it was, wow,” Yamanaka said, offering a brief, modest smile. “We had beating human heart cells, made from IPS cells.”