Shinya Yamanaka,  the internationally renowned scientist known for his pioneering work of generating the first induced pluripotent stem cells, delivered the 2011 Lasker Lecture at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University today.

The presentation of a Lasker Award recipient explored fundamental scientific questions and elucidates topics of pressing interest in medical research practice.

Dr. Yamanaka, director of the Center for iPS Cell Research and Application and professor at the Institute for Frontier Medical Sciences at Kyoto University, Japan, is a 2009 Lasker laureate, along with John Gurdon of the University of Cambridge, England, for their discoveries concerning reprogramming the nuclei of cells.

He is recognized for being the first to reprogram adult cells to behave as pluripotent stem cells, an advance he accomplished in mice and then with human skin-derived fibroblasts.

Dr. Allen Spiegel introduced Maria Freire, Ph.D., president of The Albert and Mary Lasker Foundation, which administers the Lasker Award.

Yamanaka first worked with embryonic stems cells at UCSF in order to develop transgenic mice, and set his sights on generating human iPS cells after securing his own lab at the Nara Institute of Science and Technology in Japan. His lecture highlighted the importance of combining vision and hard work, and the factors – both personal and professional – that led to his revolutionary achievements.

Paul Frenette, M.D., director of Einstein’s Ruth L. and David S. Gottesman Institute for Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine Research, followed with his presentation “Neural Control of Stem Cell and Cancer Microenvironments.”

In previous research, Dr. Frenette found that signals from the autonomic nervous system, direct hematopoietic (blood-forming) stem cells to migrate from the bone marrow and enter the bloodstream, where they differentiate into whatever blood cells the body needs. His current work on prostate cancer points to a similar role for nerves in cancer progression.

The Lasker Awards are given to those who have made major contributions to medical science. They are sometimes referred to as “America’s Nobels” because 81 Lasker laureates have received the Nobel Prize, including 29 in the last two decades.