Tuesday, January 19, 1999

Famed scientist
intensifies work
on genes, cells

More funds and lab space
spur Yanagimachi to start five
new research teams

By Helen Altonn


The University of Hawaii's famed mice-cloning scientist is stepping things up with promises of more money, space and positions.

Ryuzo Yanagimachi is taking his team in new directions after international acclaim for successfully cloning mice and freeze-drying mouse sperm to fertilize eggs.

He said he's forming five teams for research on cloning, gene manipulation, cell differentiation, sperm and egg fertilization and infertility.

And while they're each investigating a different area, what will he work on?

"Everything," said the professor of anatomy and reproductive biology.

Yanagimachi is particularly interested in differentiation, involving stem cell therapy. "It is a new area to me -- very promising," he said. "I want very good people in this area."

If a person's stem cells could be cloned and directed in the same person for therapeutic benefits, "it would be a very powerful tool," he said.

He envisions developing stem cells through cloning and directing them to make insulin-producing or new brain cells, eggs or sperm, or to help with aging diseases.

However, he adds, "It's a long way to go."

The UH signed a license Dec. 31 with Pro-Bio America Ltd., a venture capital company, for Yanagimachi's "Honolulu Cloning Technique" and freeze-dried sperm technology.

ProBio licensed an international consortium to find commercial applications for the Honolulu Technique.

Alan Teramura, UH senior vice president for research and interim dean, graduate division, said details of the contract are confidential.

"In general terms, specifically for Yana, it will provide significant research monies for him for the next five years," Teramura said.

The university also will share in royalties from product development, he said.

Meanwhile, Yanagimachi and his associates, who share a converted warehouse with campus food services, look forward to improved working conditions.

Teramura said the dying air conditioning system in their laboratory will be replaced and expanded so the researchers can use some unoccupied rooms.

The university also plans to remodel 4,000 square feet in the biomedical science building's towers for Yanagimachi's group across East-West Center Road from the present laboratory, he said. "We will be doubling his laboratory space."

The university is giving the scientist five tenure-track positions and is working with private entities to raise funds for their work, Teramura said.

Yanagimachi has named Teruhiko Wakayama and Tony Perry to head two of the five research units.

Wakayama was chief inventor of the cloning technology with Yanagimachi, and Perry, Yanagimachi and Wakayama were lead scientists on the freeze-dried sperm process.

Yanagimachi said he's recruiting leaders for the other units and people from various countries are coming for interviews.

Each group will have five to 10 assistant researchers, depending how successful they are in getting grants, he said.

He said he'll actively seek grants next month. He had been receiving about $330,000 annually in National Institutes of Health grants, which lapsed last fall.

Yanagimachi said the space allocated to his group in the biomedical building won't be large enough for five research units, and there's no room for him.

He said he'll put the younger people in the new labs, and go back and forth across the street.

Reflecting on the interest and support his team's research has attracted since the cloning announcement last July, Yanagimachi said they've "just begun. . . . "

"I wish it had happened 10 years ago. I'm not young anymore," said the 70-year-old researcher, "but I do my best."

E-mail to City Desk

Text Site Directory:
[News] [Business] [Features] [Sports] [Editorial] [Do It Electric!]
[Classified Ads] [Search] [Subscribe] [Info] [Letter to Editor]
[Stylebook] [Feedback]

© 1999 Honolulu Star-Bulletin