UC San Francisco scientist wins Nobel Prize for work on cell growth

A Japanese researcher and professor who works at UC San Francisco received the Nobel Prize in medicine, along with another scientist, for the groundbreaking discovery that cells in the body can be reprogrammed into completely different kinds — work that reflects the mechanism behind cloning and offers an alternative to using embryonic stem cells.

The work of British researcher John Gurdon and Japanese scientist Shinya Yamanaka — who was born the year Gurdon made his discovery — holds hope for treating diseases such as Parkinson’s and diabetes by growing customized tissue for transplant. It has spurred a new generation of laboratory studies into other illnesses, including schizophrenia, which may lead to new treatments.

Basically, Gurdon, 79, and Yamanaka, 50, showed how to make the equivalent of embryonic stem cells without the ethical questions those very versatile cells pose, a promise scientists are now scrambling to fulfill.

Yamanaka worked at the Gladstone Institute at UCSF and the Nara Institute of Science and Technology in Japan.

He is currently at Kyoto University and also remains affiliated with the Gladstone Institute. Yamanaka is the first Japanese scientist to win the Nobel medicine award since 1987.

Yamanaka told Japanese broadcaster NHK that he was at home doing chores on Monday when he got the call from Stockholm.

“Even though we have received this prize we have not really accomplished what we need to. I feel a deep sense of duty and responsibility,” Yamanaka said.

Choosing Yamanaka as a Nobel winner just six years after his discovery is unusual. The Nobel committees typically reward research done more than a decade earlier, to make sure it has stood the test of time.

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