UH Med Now
Special video, Scientific meeting today celebrates “Yana,” the legendary UH professor who laid scientific foundation for IVF; cloned the world’s first mouse
Pictured: Dr. Ryuzo Yanagimachi surrounded by fellow faculty and graduate students in the UH Institute for Biogenesis Research he founded. Deborah Manog Dimaya Photo.
“I never expected my life could be this good when I arrived here in 1966. I thank everyone.” – Yana said.
By Tina Shelton, JABSOM Communications Director
Ryuzo Yanagimachi, PhD, known by colleagues as “Dr. Yana,” is an internationally renowned fertility researcher, whose development of the “Honolulu Technique” to create the world’s first cloned mouse brought international acclaim to the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa (UHM). In August 1998, the achievement was featured in news articles around the world. Now, on August 27 — Yana’s 90th birthday — the inaugural Yanagimachi Symposium has convened at the Sullivan Conference Center on the UH Kakaʻako campus.
Dr. Yanagimachi founded the UHM Institute for Biogenesis Research, part of the John A. Burns School of Medicine (JABSOM), in 2000. Long before that, he had toiled in laboratories devising the reproductive science that led to assisted fertilization in vitro.
In the early 1960’s, when he was a post-doctoral fellow in the laboratory of the world-renowned Dr. M. C. Chang of the Worcester Foundation of Experimental Biology, Massachusetts, Yana put rodent eggs and sperm in a petri dish under the lenses of a microscope and watched the sperm enter into the egg, the first time that had been done with rodents. This in vitro fertilization (or IVF) was the beginning of his and other scientists’ analytical studies of fertilization in mammals, eventually including humans.
“A pioneer in the basic mechanisms of assisted fertilization”
Although Yana’s major endeavor was to better understand the basic mechanisms of fertilization, his team pioneered other techniques including the one called intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI). This method of injecting the sperm into the egg is used world-wide today when IVF does not work.
1997: “The mice that roar…”national news magazine
The technique gave Cumulina her name. Scientifically, the creation of Cumulina and more than 50 carbon-copy mice was a critical step forward, demonstrating what was believed to be a more reliable cloning technique than the one that had been used to create Dolly the sheep, the world’s first cloned animal. This cloning success means that all the body cells have the potential to develop into any other type of cell line. This discovery triggered active research of cell conversion from one type to another for therapeutic purposes.
Yana’s team followed that achievement by making worldwide news once again in 1999, creating transgenic mice. This was achieved by inserting a gene into the mouse genome that produces a protein which gives jellyfish their green fluorescence. They showed that germline genetic transfer of the green fluorescent protein gene was possible, because the “glowing green mouse” produced pups which also carried the “green fluorescent gene.”
Yana’s early years
Yanagimachi applied for a post-doctoral position with Dr. M. C. Chang of the Worcester Foundation for Experimental Biology in Shrewsbury, Massachusetts. It was there that he first discovered how to fertilize hamster eggs “in vitro.” This achievement was second to the rabbit. Chang previously had succeeded in fertilizing rabbit eggs in vitro. After his post-doctoral position ended in 1964, Yana returned to Japan, but before returning, he met Dr. Robert W. Noyes of Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee who suggested that Yana visits Dr. Winsor Cutting of the University of Hawaiʻi on his way back to Japan. Yana stopped in Hawaiʻi, but since he did not know Dr. Cutting, he felt more comfortable just visiting the beach. He was smitten with Hawaiʻi by the time he left.
Fortunately, several months after Yana returned to Japan, Dr. Noyes reached out again. Noyes told Yana that he was going to join the newly established Medical School of the University of Hawaiʻi and asked Yana if he was interested in joining him. In 1966, Dr. Windsor Cutting, then Dean of the UH medical school, appointed Yana, who was 38 years old at the time, as an assistant professor in the Department of Anatomy, Biochemistry and Physiology. In 2005 Yana, by then a full Professor, retired with the title Emeritus Professor.
Yana was inducted into the prestigious National Academy of Sciences in 2001 and also the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development’s Hall of Honor in 2003, which recognizes scientists for exceptional contributions to the advancement of knowledge and improvement of maternal and child health. In 1996, he was given the International Prize for Biology, which is awarded in the presence of the emperor of Japan.
As he turns 90, Yana continues to work in his beloved Institute for Biogenesis Research, even though he formally retired in 2005. He remains curious and full of wonder about nature. He has made significant contributions to science throughout his career, and brought much pride to our State and University. As August 27 nears, it is our honor to say “Happy Birthday, Yana” and to add a heartfelt “Mahalo” too, from your JABSOM ʻOhana.