STAR-BULLETIN / 2004
University of Hawaii Professor Emeritus Ryuzo Yanagimachi will be honored May 27-30 in Kona by the Society for the Study of Reproduction, the world's largest scientific organization for reproductive biology.
Fertility science giant honored
University of Hawaii Professor Emeritus Ryuzo Yanagimachi, internationally famed for developing the world's first cloned mice, is more pleased with his less publicized research to help people with fertility.
"Fertility has always been his deal," said Dr. Steven Ward, interim director of the Institute for Biogenesis Research founded by Yanagimachi in the John A. Burns School of Medicine.
Hundreds of thousands of people worldwide have been able to have babies because of Yanagimachi's pioneering research, he said. "Yana," as he is known affectionately, "was responsible for almost single-handedly developing the test-tube baby," Ward said.
Dr. Thomas Huang, Pacific In Vitro Fertilization Institute laboratory director, said Yanagimachi "was one of the first in the world to perform fertilization in vitro."
The Society for the Study of Reproduction, the world's largest scientific organization for reproductive biology, will meet May 27-30 in Kona to honor Yanagimachi and celebrate his 80th birthday, Ward said. "He is one of their gurus," Ward said.
It's the first time in the organization's 40-year history that it is meeting outside of the mainland United States or Canada and "it is already an amazing success," he said.
More abstracts have been submitted than previously and "a full house" of about 900 participants is expected although the registration fee to cover costs is almost double what it usually is, he said.
Yanagimachi, who will be 80 on Aug. 27, did pioneering work on two major reproductive techniques -- in vitro fertilization where the egg and sperm are joined outside the body, and intracytoplasmic sperm injection where the sperm is injected by needle into the egg.
Working with hamsters, Huang said, Yanagimachi and his group developed laboratory techniques "to lay the foundation for revolutionizing treatment of male infertility (half of all infertility cases) by injecting a single sperm into an egg.
"One of the amazing things about Dr. Yanagimachi has been his productivity into his eighth decade," Huang said. "He continues to discover things.
"He has shown that 'freeze drying' of sperm can be used to economically store sperm without the use of expensive liquid nitrogen and he has recently shown new ways of treating sperm prior to injection in the egg that might improve fertilization and developmental results."
Yanagimachi and his team in 1990 produced the first cloned mice in what was called the "Honolulu Technique." They also developed a transgenic mouse with an implanted green-tinted "marking" gene and the green mouse passed the tint on to her pups.
"I feel like an opera singer who becomes famous for a single 'pop' hit," the modest scientist said in a medical school newsletter regarding the notoriety associated with those achievements.
He cares more about his life's work studying how sperm and eggs interact and fine-tuning fertility procedures, Ward said.
He said Yanagimachi, though retired as professor of anatomy and reproductive biology, "comes in every single day and most days works more than most of us."
Yanagimachi says he's editing papers for the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and continuing fertility research in the biogenesis institute and with groups in other countries. He will go to Japan in July and to France in August.
He said he trains people from around the world in his lab, helps young researchers "and whenever someone needs me, I go there."