Yamanaka labels concerns over iPS cells as 'misconception'

February 11, 2014


KYOTO--Nobel Prize laureate Shinya Yamanaka said the safety of induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells has improved greatly in recent years, and reports that iPS cells can easily turn cancerous compared to recently discovered STAP stem cells are a misconception.

“A widely spreading mistaken idea that iPS cells are more likely to become cancerous than STAP cells is wrenching at my heart,” Yamanaka, an iPS cell pioneer, said at a news conference in Kyoto on Feb. 10.

The professor at Kyoto University’s Center for iPS Cell Research and Application won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2012 for his success in engineering iPS cells.

Yamanaka said the safety of iPS cells has significantly improved over the eight years since they were first created. There was a relatively high risk of malignant transformation in iPS cells of early dates, but the latest technologies have allowed scientists to create safer cells, he said.

Regarding the new stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency cells, known as STAP, there is believed to be a lower risk of malignant transformation because the cells can be produced with simple methods.

Yamanaka said it is still a long way to clinical applications of STAP cells, although iPS cells are currently just one step away from being applied to clinical studies.

“The safety (of treatments using STAP cells) remains unclear,” the Nobel Prize winner said. “I believe a major problem for STAP is to check whether there are any abnormalities (in the cells).”

Meanwhile, Yamanaka said the discovery of STAP cells is exciting news for iPS researchers, and that he will spare no effort in providing necessary assistance and cooperation to Haruko Obokata, a scientist at the Riken Center for Developmental Biology in Kobe, who devised a method to engineer STAP cells.

“I am really proud that (STAP cells) have been discovered by a young Japanese researcher,” Yamanaka said. “The findings are an excellent achievement. I feel extremely excited as a researcher.”

Yamanaka also said STAP cells may be able to be used in fields where iPS cells are not likely to be used, such as treatments enabling doctors to repair patients’ organs inside the body.

“While the goal for iPS cells is the major leagues, I believe STAP cells have another potential,” Yamanaka said. “STAP cells do not need to seek to play in the major leagues. They will also be able to play soccer to grab a ticket to the World Cup.”

“Both iPS and STAP cells are promising stars,” added Yamanaka. “STAP cells are a newly born star.”

(This article was written by Nobutaro Kaji and Ryosuke Nonaka.)

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Shinya Yamanaka talks to reporters at a Feb. 10 news conference in Kyoto. (Rintaro Sakurai)

Shinya Yamanaka talks to reporters at a Feb. 10 news conference in Kyoto. (Rintaro Sakurai)

  • Shinya Yamanaka talks to reporters at a Feb. 10 news conference in Kyoto. (Rintaro Sakurai)

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