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Tuesday, October 9, 2012


Two nights ago when I joined Tetsuya Osaka and Tadashi Matsunaga for a couple of drinks at New Casino, President Matsunaga was particularly anxious because one of his faculty members at Nokodai (Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology) was a finalist for a Nobel Prize, and the announcement was to come at 11PM (Hawaii time).  Matsunaga, though, felt that the rival from Kyodai (Kyoto University) was the favorite.  My Chapter 2 of SIMPLE SOLUTIONS for Humanity detailed the promise of stem cells, and in part focused on the work of Shinya Yamanaka of Kyoto University:

Adult stem cells are not much of an issue, and reports keep surfacing that they can now be extracted from human skin, ordinary cells, human amniotic (liquid in which the fetus subsists) fluid, and more. Geneticist Shinya Yamanaka of Kyoto University has mixed a chemical cocktail of four ingredients to treat adult cells for this purpose. In November of 2007, Cell reported Yamanaka’s team is now able to make patient-specific stem cells for therapies without fear of immune rejection and Science featured an article from the University of Wisconsin similar to the Kyoto development, in effect reprogramming implanted skin cells to convert them to stem cells. Furthermore, it was reported in Nature that an American group had found a way to extract embryonic stem cells without killing the embryo. [Nature later, on December 2006, amended this article, for all these embryos were, in fact, destroyed.] Yes, this was a mouse embryo, but something new pops up weekly.

Well, the Nobel Committee released it's first awards of the year and named Professor Yamanaka and John Gordon of the University of Cambridge the Nobel Prize for Medicine.

Professor Gordon is 79 and discovered in 1962 that adult cells from a frog could produce living tadpoles.  This accomplishment was highly controversial, and the field was skeptical because the knowledge of those times was that adult cells could only result in that specific function.  Maybe there is hope for me, as I yesterday ended my posting with:

Well, I guess  as in SETI and cold fusion, I must be chasing another rainbow when it comes to the DMFC.

Gordon waited half a century to be recognized.

Yamanaka, who now also spends time at the Gladstone Institutes (University of California at San Francisco), used mice in 2006 to reprogram four specific gene control agents, transforming the egg cell into a stem cell.  Now, various techniques can be used to mature the cell into any body function.

The real world application is obvious:  regenerative medicine.  Science is close to repairing or replacing any organ using your own body cells.

Gordon and Yamanaka will split around $1.3 million, get that medal of 24 karat gold and gain the ultimate in prestige.  This medal featuring Alfred Nobel weighs about 0.39 pounds and is today worth approximately $10,000.


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