Andras Nagy

Leaving his native Hungary for Toronto, Canada in 1988, Andras defied borders to become one of the world’s most renowned developmental molecular geneticists. Most recently he discovered a new method for creating induced pluripotent stem cells that will transform regenerative medicine. He is Senior Investigator at the Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute and a professor in the Department of  Molecular and Medical Genetics at the University of Toronto.

A Radical Discovery

Not all stem cells are the same. Embryonic stem cells are pluripotent in nature, capable of forming every cell type in the human body. However, adult stem cells are mature and already preprogrammed to perform a particular function — they cannot be used to create any kind of cell in the way embryonic ones can. Several years ago Japanese scientist Shinya Yamanaka began asking an important question: what if we could find a way to take adult stem cells and make them behave like embryonic stem cells?

Few believed it was possible until he proved it could be done in 2006. He succeeded in generating embryonic-like stem cells from adult stem cells or what have now become known as induced pluripotent stem cells. It was a transformative point in time for stem cell science.  However, while Shinya accomplished in the lab what many doubted could be done, the method he used was unsafe for use with humans. As a result, his groundbreaking work ignited a fire — the search for an alternative method safe for potential therapeutic applications.

In 2009, Andras Nagy found the answer. He discovered a way to generate induced pluripotent stem cells that did not carry the same risks as the original approach.  His discovery opens up significant hope for the future. Every year, thousands of patients in need of transplant are put on waiting lists, hoping they survive until a compatible donor is found. But with the ability to harvest our own adult stem cells, turn them into embryonic-like cells, and regenerate our organs to build new tissue, the need for donors could gradually disappear. And with it, the many problems of rejection and immunosuppressant drugs could also disappear.  Instead, we could, literally, heal ourselves.