UH Med Now
Lessons for Living Well: 90 year old scientific legend Dr. Ryuzo Yanagimachi, “Yana” of the University of Hawai’i
Pictured: At age 90, Scientist Dr. Ryuzo Yanagimachi, now retired, in his lab, enthusiastic as ever, about his research. Deborah Manog Dimaya photo.
By Tina Shelton, JABSOM Communications Director
In the early 1960’s when Dr. Ryuzo “Yana” Yanagimachi, of the University of Hawaiʻi (UH) started working with mammals, he wanted to do something different from other researchers. Not many were looking into fertilization at that time, so he chose that. He thinks choosing a path where you can focus and take your time, not compete so much, has been a good choice.
The UH Professor Emeritus brought international acclaim to the University when he developed the “Honolulu Technique,” which allowed him to create the world’s first cloned mouse. In August 1998, Yana’s achievement made headlines around the world. His early fertilization research with rodents laid the foundation for assisted reproduction for humans, and he has refined techniques, which have improved in vitro fertilization procedures.
At age 90, Yana has outlived both his parents’ ages at death. He says he was never an athlete or sportsman, instead he preferred crafts, like pottery. His scientific mind and stick-to-it attitude do come in handy as a senior.
“I don’t mind failure,” Yana said. “I (simply) think about trying again. If you give up,” he adds, “you never achieve.”
Although Yana does not enjoy failure, he also does not mind it. He explains that failure is not a waste of time. These are powerful lessons for people of any age. Be patient. Keep trying, even when things may seem harder or take longer.
Yana says he is not a good sleeper. His only pain is his back, which gets stiff; for which he stretches on the floor in the morning for ten minutes or so, and again at night before bed.
“I try not to catch a cold,” Yana said. At the first sign of anything, he takes aspirin or Tylenol and gets some rest. Again, some wise advice, “Don’t underestimate a cold.”
Yana says he is lucky at this age that he still finds his work stimulating. His research still interests him and causes his heart to race. He also credits getting to work with good associates, those who have followed in his footsteps in human reproduction studies at the UH Mānoa Institute for Biogenesis Research, part of the UH John A. Burns School of Medicine.Right outside of his office hangs a framed piece of art which, at first, looks like a happy face. Actually, the artwork is Yana’s drawing of a sperm and an egg in a petri dish.