Interview, September 2017
“I can see any failure as a chance”
Shinya Yamanaka is a runner, a father and the man who first created stem cells from normal body cells. A pioneer of biomedical research, he describes how he was determined to find success in the face of all else.
Shinya Yamanaka, 2012 Nobel Laureate in Physiology or Medicine, talks about the highlights of the previous Nobel Week, 12 December 2012.
The 2012 Nobel Laureates met at the Bernadotte Library in Stockholm on 7 December 2012 for the traditional round-table discussion and TV program ‘Nobel Minds’. The Nobel Laureates discussed their work and what being awarded a Nobel Prize meant to them. The discussion was hosted by Zeinab Badawi of the BBC.
Interview with the 2012 Nobel Laureates in Physiology or Medicine Sir John B. Gurdon and Shinya Yamanaka, 6 December 2012. The interviewer is Nobelprize.org’s Adam Smith.
Telephone interview with Shinya Yamanaka following the announcement of the 2012 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. The interviewer is Nobelprize.org’s Adam Smith.
[Shinya Yamanaka] Hello
[Adam Smith] Hello, may I speak to Professor Yamanaka please?
[SY] Yes, speaking.
[AS] Oh hello, this is Adam Smith calling from the Nobel Prize website in Stockholm. We have a traditional of recording very short interviews with new Nobel Laureates. Would you be able to speak for just a very few minutes?
[AS] Thank you. First of all, our sincere congratulations on the award of the Nobel Prize.
[SY] Oh, thank you very much. It is a tremendous honour to me. Especially I heard that I am going to share the prize with Dr. John Gurdon, so I feel more honoured, because I respect him a lot.
[AS] He established the principle of gene conservation in differentiated cells, half a century ago. And so there was this very long run up then very rapidly you have transformed the field by creating induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells.
[SY] Yes, well I was able to initiate my project because of his experiments fifty years ago. Actually, he published his work in 1962. And that was the year when I was born. So I really feel just great, feel honoured.
[AS] There’s a lovely symmetry about that. And it shows the progress of science, and one can’t be too rushed in expecting things to happen.
[AS] And indeed, it’s the fiftieth anniversary of your birth and of his publications.
[SY] Oh yes exactly. Yes. I just turned out to be fifty.
[AS] Congratulations on that also, then.
[SY] Thank you very much.
[AS] May I ask, what were you doing when the call from Stockholm came?
[SY] Well actually I was at home. I was doing some housework. So I was very surprised.
[AS] So you were actually doing some housework, you were cleaning the house or something?
[SY] Yes, exactly. So I didn’t expect at all.
[AS] Can you recall your initial reaction to the call?
[SY] Well, so I was kind of alarmed by my secretary, who is still at my office. So she got a call from Stockholm, and asked about my phone number. So she kind of gave me an alert. But still, you know, I was not sure at all. So when I received the call, I was surprised. Almost, you know, I just thought wow, it’s very … a phonecall from Stockholm. I just couldn’t believe it.
[AS] That’s lovely. That’s very nice. Indeed it hasn’t been long. It was only in 2006 that you created the first iPS cells, so it hasn’t been long.
[SY] So I strongly feel that this is, that I am able to receive this award because of John Gurdon and also many other researchers in the field. This field has a long history, starting with John Gurdon. So I feel very lucky. I may have played some important role in this long history, but it was not myself who initiated this field. So that’s my feeling right now.
[AS] I understand and it’s so nice that the two of you are tied together by the award and will be in Stockholm together in December to accept it.
[SY] Yes, that’s great, yes.
[AS] When you come to Stockholm we have a longer chance, happily, to interview you and so talk more.
[AS] But I just wanted ask you one final question, which was what your greatest hopes for stem cells technologies are at the moment? What do you hope will be the first benefit?
[SY] Well, I will bring this technology to clinics. I really want to help as many patients as possible. As you may know, I started my career as a surgeon 25 years ago. But it turned out that I am not talented as a surgeon. So I decided to change my career, from clinics to laboratories. But I still feel that I am a doctor, I am a physician, so I really want to help patients. So my goal, all my life, is to bring this technology, stem cell technology to the bedside, to patients, to clinics.
[AS] Thank you. And I understand that iPS cells will, in fact, be going into the clinic for trials next year for the first time.
[SY] Yes, indeed. Yes.
[AS] Okay. Well, thank you very much indeed. And I wish a lovely evening of celebration.
[SY] Okay, thank you so much
[AS] It was a pleasure to talk to you. Thank you. Congratulations again.
[SY] Thank you very much. Bye bye.
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