“From next week, I’d like to return with renewed determination to the field as an active researcher.” Professor Yamanaka at a press conference on 9th October, the day after he was awarded the prize. Picture: AP/Aflo
The regeneration of organs with the use of one’s own cells is a medical dream that’s close to realization.
Professor Shinya Yamanaka of Kyoto University, who won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2012, has for the first time in the world generated induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells which can grow into any tissue of the body from the skin. Researchers are currently carrying out projects all over the world in order to, investigate the practical use of iPS cells in medicine.
At the press conference after winning the prize, Professor Yamanaka thanked people for cooperating with his research and expressed his aspirations for the future, saying “I’d like my research to be of use to patients after it overcomes some safety concerns”.
‘Regenerative Medicine’ Will Make Organ Transplants From Brain Dead Patients Redundant
In the future, incurable diseases can be cured through ‘regenerative medicine’ and ‘new drug developments’ using iPS cells. In particular, brain death organ transplants, which are associated with various problems, will no longer be needed due to the practical application of iPS cells.
If it is possible to produce organs from iPS cells, the cells of our body can be cultivated to create a heart. There is no need to be concerned about rejection reactions associated with heart transplants from brain-dead organ donors because the cells come from our own body. Furthermore, it may resolve the chronic problems related donor shortages, prevent organ harvesting, and end the trafficking of body parts.
This research will ultimately lead to research into the regeneration of the human body. Ryuho Okawa, President of Happy Science, preaches that human flesh is not like a machine, but is similar to “a flowing river”. Master Okawa believes the importance of taking into consideration that “all cells will be replaced eventually”. iPS cell research will lead to an enlightenment of the mechanisms involved in body cell regeneration and it will ultimately be possible to restore a part of the body that is lost with one’s own body cells. A new era of medicine will dawn with eyes being opened to the mysterious workings of the human body.
Prerequisite Knowledge for This Article
iPS cells (induced pluripotent stem cells)
One fertilised egg becomes a whole human body through cell division. During the cell division (in the embryonic state), each cell will develop and be allocated a specific role by becoming an organ, muscle, bone, and so forth.
Professor Yamanaka has developed a technology that allows human body cells to be restored to a state prior to the allocation of a particular role, and he has named them iPS cells. When four genes (Yamanaka factors) are introduced to a cell, it will return to the embryonic state and await development into any type of cell as if the clock were turned backwards.
So far, research has been carried out into ES (embryonic stem) cells because they can develop into ‘any’ type of cell. There is, however, an ethical issue since the retrieval of ES cells from a fertilised egg does eventually destroy it. Among other places, the Holy See in the Vatican has voiced its opposition to this research area.
On the other hand, iPS cells can be created from skin cells or blood cells, which are easily sampled free of ethical issues.
Research into the implantation of iPS-generated cells into a patient’s body is in progress, and next year, for the first time in the world, Riken is scheduled to carry out treatment using iPS cells created from patients’ own cells.
In addition, since it is possible to create eggs and sperm from iPS cells, in principle, a fertilised egg can also be created. When new ethical issues arise that seem to enter into the divine realm, and it is uncertain as to whether or not they are genuinely linked to the happiness of mankind, the world ultimately requires judgments from a religious standpoint.