Nobel Prize Winners have a Bangalore Connection
The two scientists, whose cerebral work in the field of stem cell research and regenerative medicine was acknowledged with a Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine on Tuesday, have a Bangalore connection, and more specifically, with the Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine ( inSTEM ).
While British biologist John B. Gurdon has mentored, and even provided crucial guidance or direction to the three – year – old institute, located at the National Centre of Biological Sciences ( NCBS ) here, Japanese scientist Shinya Yamanaka visited the institute, interacted with students and delivered a public lecture on his work with induced pluripotent cells ( iPS ) and its applications in the promising field of regenerative medicine in January this year.
The Institute for Frontier Medical Sciences at the Kyoto University, the premier research institute where the 50 – year – old Dr. Yamanaka works, has an ongoing research collaboration with inSTEM. Dr. Gurdon too visited the institute to deliver the first Frontier Lecture series, and interacted warmly with scientists in 2010.
As part of this collaboration, researchers have set up a joint research laboratory that focuses on making iPS cells and bringing the technology to India, explained Ramaswamy Subramanian, dean of inSTEM.
The two institutes jointly hired two researchers, who focus on iPS cells and regenerative medicine. Dr. Subramanian said that the institute here was looking at making the technology available so scientists could study Indian population cell lines or diseases that are specific to Indian genetic makeup.
Dr. Yamanaka’s talk here, as part of the Cell Press – TNQ India Distinguished Lectureship Series, scientists will recall, was extremely down – to – earth. When he delivered the lecture at the Indian Institute of Science here, he spoke about how he started his career as a physician, and then tried to be an orthopaedic surgeon, only to realise that he was “not too good at surgery”.
The unassuming scientist told his audience he realised there were limitations to what he could do for patients suffering from untreatable diseases and injuries, and this inspired him to “go back to basic medicine”.
This led him to “meet the iPS cell”, the witty scientist then said, and his breakthrough in 2007 when he was able to find a way to re – program adult cells into undifferentiated stem cells. Dr. Yamanaka interacted at length with stem cell researchers and was as keen to listen to their work and ideas as he was to talk about his, scientists said.
“For somebody so accomplished, he was extremely down – to – earth,” Dr. Subramanian recalled. “Dr. Yamanaka is more interested in applications of this in neurodegenerative conditions, but world over, scientists are working on therapeutic applications in fields such as cardiovascular diseases and more. The breakthrough has happened; hereafter a lot of incremental work needs to be done to get it to therapy.”
The 79 – year – old Dr. Gurdon, who incidentally made his breakthrough discovery — by producing tadpole from adult frog eggs — in the same year that Dr. Yamanaka was born, is on inSTEM’s scientific advisory board.
In effect, his work showed that genetic material or DNA could drive development to a fullyfunctional cell of an organism.
It is this discovery that Dr. Yamanaka built on to discover cells can be reprogrammed into stem cells, a finding that holds unparalleled promise in the field of regenerative medicine of therapy.
Further, this contribution also freed regenerative medicine from the huge ethical and socio – political quandaries associated with stem cell research. Together, the two scientists, as the Nobel Committee put it, “Revolutionised our understanding of how cells and organisms develop”.