Shinya Yamanaka

Robert Koch Award 2008, together with Hans Robert Schöler and Irving Weissman

On November 14, the Robert Koch Foundation awarded the 2008 Robert Koch Award, endowed with a total of €100,000, jointly to Professor Hans Robert Schöler, Professor Irving Weissman and Professor Shinya Yamanaka.

Professor Yamanaka from the Department of Stem Cell Biology at the Institute for Frontier Medical Sciences at the University of Kyoto in Japan, receives the prize for his pioneering research into the induction and functional analysis of pluripotent stem cells from somatic cells. Two years ago, he and his team were the first to succeed in reprogramming mature skin cells from mice. These then acted like embryonic stem cells and were able to form each of the body’s 200 or so different cell types such as nerve cells, muscle cells and cartilage cells. A year later, Professor Yamanaka was able to show that this method also works with human skin cells. His technique was surprisingly simple: the production of pluripotent stem cells required neither eggs nor embryos. The skin cells were reprogrammed into all-rounders simply by inserting four genes, Oct4, Sox2, c-Myc and Klf4, into their genetic material.