Health care in Japan: Regenerative medicine the new buzz

In a country whose main male role models seem to be flouncy-haired television “talent”, Shinya Yamanaka is an oddity. The 50-year-old scientist shared the 2012 Nobel prize for medicine for his work reprogramming mature cells into induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells. But his career also includes bouts of failure—something rarely forgiven in Japan. He became a folk hero when he won the award.

To add to the surprise, his work has produced a whiff of enterprise in a country whose population and manufacturing industry are both ageing fast. Using iPS-cell patents, business-minded boffins are busy inventing new ways to rebuild retina tissue to prevent blindness among the elderly, for example. The government promises to back such ventures with 110 billion yen ($1.17 billion) of hard cash.

Dr Yamanaka’s success comes just as Japan is reaping the benefits of a transformation in the way it approves, pays for and administers drugs. The aim is to spur innovation and curb rising age-related health costs. The world’s biggest drugmakers are licking their lips.

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Prof. Shinya Yamanaka Attends Nobel Banquet

Prof. Shinya Yamanaka, who won the 2012 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, attended a spectacular Nobel banquet with his wife and other family members Monday evening.

About 1,300 guests were invited to the formal gala to honor the Nobel prize winners, held at the Blue Hall on the first floor of Stockholm City Hall.

As a fanfare sounded, Yamanaka–wearing the Order of Culture–entered the venue with a radiant expression as he walked with Princess Madeleine, 30.

Yamanaka, 50, sat at the Table of Honor in the center of the hall with King Carl XVI Gustaf, 66, and other members of the Swedish royal family and guests.

Next to Yamanaka was the princess, while Prince Carl Philip, 33, was seated next to Yamanaka’s wife, Chika, who sat in front of her husband. The couple enjoyed a conversation over dinner with the young royal family members.

Japan-Britain Duo Win Nobel Medicine Prize for Stem Cell Discovery

Shinya Yamanaka of Japan and John B. Gurdon of Britain won the Nobel Medicine Prize on Monday for their groundbreaking work on stem cells, the jury said.
The pair were honoured “for the discovery that mature cells can be reprogrammed to become pluripotent,” it said. The two discovered “that mature, specialised cells can be reprogrammed to become immature cells capable of developing into all tissues of the body,” it said. By reprogramming human cells, “scientists have created new opportunities to study diseases and develop methods for diagnosis and therapy,” the Nobel committee said.

Gurdon is currently at the Gurdon Institute in Cambridge, while Yamanaka is a professor at Kyoto University in Japan. Because of the economic crisis, the Nobel Foundation has slashed the prize sum to eight million Swedish kronor ($1.2 million, 930,000 euros) per award, down from the 10 million kronor awarded since 2001.

Last year, the honour went to Bruce Beutler of the United States, Jules Hoffmann of Luxembourg and Ralph Steinman of Canada, for their groundbreaking work on the immune system.

This year’s laureates will receive their prize at a formal ceremony in Stockholm on December 10, the anniversary of prize founder Alfred Nobel’s death in 1896.

Nobel winner urges Japan to abandon nuclear power

Nobel laureate Kenzaburo Oe urged Japan’s new prime minister on Tuesday to halt plans to restart nuclear power plants and instead abandon nuclear energy.

Oe cautioned Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda against prioritizing the economy over safety. Noda has said he will allow idled nuclear plants to resume operation when their safety is confirmed.

"The new prime minister seems to think that nuclear power plants are necessary for Japan’s economy, and how to resume their operation is one of his key political agendas," Oe said. "We must make a big decision to abolish all nuclear plants."

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Negishi and Suzuki honored at Nobel Prize Award Ceremony

The Nobel Prize Award Ceremony was held at the Stockholm Concert Hall on Friday, with Japanese scientists Ei-ichi Negishi and Akira Suzuki receiving medals and diplomas in chemistry from King Carl XVI Gustaf. Negishi, 75, is a professor at Purdue University in the United States and Suzuki, 80, is a professor emeritus at Hokkaido University. The two won the 2010 Nobel Prize in chemistry along with American chemist Richard Heck, for their work on reactions to create complex organic compounds through what is called palladium-catalyzed cross coupling. Formally clad in swallowtails and white ties, the Nobel Prize winners walked onstage and seated themselves in bright red chairs as the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra played a march by Mozart.

When their names were called by an official of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, who described the achievements of each winner, Negishi and Suzuki stepped forward to receive medals engraved with Alfred Nobel’s image and diplomas from the Swedish king.

The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2010

Organic chemistry has developed into an art form where scientists produce marvelous chemical creations in their test tubes. Mankind benefits from this in the form of medicines, ever-more precise electronics and advanced technological materials. The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2010 awards one of the most sophisticated tools available to chemists today.

This year’s Nobel Prize in Chemistry is awarded to Richard F. Heck, Ei-ichi Negishi and Akira Suzuki for the development of palladium-catalyzed cross coupling. This chemical tool has vastly improved the possibilities for chemists to create sophisticated chemicals, for example carbon-based molecules as complex as those created by nature itself.

Carbon-based (organic) chemistry is the basis of life and is responsible for numerous fascinating natural phenomena: colour in flowers, snake poison and bacteria killing substances such as penicillin. Organic chemistry has allowed man to build on nature’s chemistry; making use of carbon’s ability to provide a stable skeleton for functional molecules. This has given mankind new medicines and revolutionary materials such as plastics.

In order to create these complex chemicals, chemists need to be able to join carbon atoms together. However, carbon is stable and carbon atoms do not easily react with one another. The first methods used by chemists to bind carbon atoms together were therefore based upon various techniques for rendering carbon more reactive. Such methods worked when creating simple molecules, but when synthesizing more complex molecules chemists ended up with too many unwanted by-products in their test tubes.

Palladium-catalyzed cross coupling solved that problem and provided chemists with a more precise and efficient tool to work with. In the Heck reaction, Negishi reaction and Suzuki reaction, carbon atoms meet on a palladium atom, whereupon their proximity to one another kick-starts the chemical reaction.

Palladium-catalyzed cross coupling is used in research worldwide, as well as in the commercial production of for example pharmaceuticals and molecules used in the electronics industry.

Two Japanese Professors and an American win Nobel Prize in Chemistry

Two Japanese, Prof. Ei-ichi Negishi and Prof. Akira Suzuki, and one American, Prof. Richard F. Heck, have been awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for the development of “palladium-catalyzed cross couplings in organic synthesis.”

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The news was cause for pride within Japan, leading to immediate television reports, newspaper special editions, and comments of praise to the winners from Prime Minister Naoto Kan on down.

Japanese news reports stated that the awards are the 17th and 18th Nobel prizes for Japanese citizens, and the 6th and 7th specifically in chemistry.