Japan stem cell scientist wins Kyoto Prize

A Japanese scientist who created the equivalent of embryonic stem cells from ordinary skin cells has won one of this year’s Kyoto Prizes and will receive a $550,000 prize.

Shinya Yamanaka, 47, developed a way to reprogram skin cells so that they can be developed into all kinds of tissue, such as that of the heart or brain. This has vast potential to speed medical research, creating genetically matched cells for use in damaged parts of the body.

He developed the method as an alternative to using embryonic stem cells, an approach that required embryos to be destroyed, raising complicated ethical questions that held back research.

Yamanaka won the award for advanced technology.

The Kyoto Prize was established in 1985 and is awarded to people who have contributed significantly to the scientific, cultural and spiritual betterment of humankind.

Other winners were Laszlo Lovasz, a dual citizen of the U.S. and Hungary, in mathematical sciences, and William Kentridge in art and philosophy for his creative works of art.

The winners will receive gold medals and 50 million yen (US$555,000) in each category at a ceremony in Kyoto in November.

The prizes are awarded by the Inamori Foundation, a charitable body established by Kazuo Inamori, who founded Japanese electronic component maker Kyocera Corp.

Associated Press