Special video, Scientific meeting today celebrates “Yana,” the legendary UH professor who laid scientific foundation for IVF; cloned the world’s first mouse

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Pictured: Dr. Ryuzo Yanagimachi surrounded by fellow faculty and graduate students in the
UH Institute for Biogenesis Research he founded. Deborah Manog Dimaya Photo.

At 5pm, in the Sullivan Center, “Yana” will be saluted with the screening of a specially-produced video and a proclamation signed by Hawaiʻi Governor David Ige and Lt. Gov. Douglas Chin.

I never expected my life could be this good when I arrived here in 1966. I thank everyone,” Yana said.

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.

What inspired him then, we asked? “I have always been curious about nature, about the wonder of life, since I was a boy,” Yana said recently.

“A pioneer in the basic mechanisms of assisted fertilization”
Internationally, Yana has been called “a pioneer of in vitro fertilization”, the procedure which was first used 40 years ago by Edwards and Steptoe on a woman who was unable otherwise to have a baby. This procedure has been used ever since to assist infertile couples world-wide.

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
Twenty-one years ago, this month, at UH Mānoa, Yana’s team cloned Cumulina, a female mouse that lived to the ripe old age of two-and-a-half years, (which is old indeed for a mouse!). To create her, the nucleus of a cell from an adult mouse was injected through a tiny needle into an egg donated by a second adult mouse, the egg’s original genetic package (nucleus) having been removed. The donor nucleus came from cumulus cells which surround the developing eggs in the ovaries of female mice.

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
Hawaiʻi is fortunate that Yana, born in Hokkaido, Japan, has made the Aloha State his home. He received a Bachelor’s Degree in zoology in 1952 and a Doctorate in animal embryology in 1960 from Hokkaido University. He then taught high school and junior college for two years because he could not find a research position.

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.

See video highlights from the conference, cake and Governor of Hawaiʻi Proclamation celebrating Yana!

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.