Nobel Prize winner Yamanaka: scientific research, ethics must go hand in hand

Shinya Yamanaka (right).

Shinya Yamanaka, fresh from the Nobel Prize for medicine, states that science and ethics must go hand in hand. Interviewed by the Mainichi Shimbun after the award, he said: “I would like to invite ethical experts as teachers at my laboratory and work to guide iPS [induced pluripotent stem] cell research from that direction as well. The work of a scientific researcher is just one part of the equation. ”

Yamanaka, 50, found that adult cells can be transformed into cells in their infancy, stem cells (iPS), which are, so to speak, the raw material for the reconstruction of tissue irreparably damaged by disease. For regenerative medicine the implications of Yamanaka’s discovery are obvious. Adult skin cells can for example be reprogrammed and transformed into any other cell that is desired: from the skin to the brain, from the skin to the heart, from the skin to elements that produce insulin.

“Their discovery – says the statement of the jury that awarded him the Nobel Prize on October 8 – has revolutionized our understanding of how cells and organisms develop. Through the programming of human cells, scientists have created new opportunities for the study of diseases and development of methods for the diagnosis and therapy “.

These “opportunities” are not only “scientific”, but also “ethical”. Much of the scientific research and global investment is in fact launched to design and produce stem cells from embryos, arriving at the point of manipulating and destroying them, facing scientists with enormous ethical problems and alienating Christians who believe that human life begins at conception (Psalm 139:13-16; Jeremiah 1:4-5).

” Ethics are really difficult – Yamanaka explainsto Mainichi – In the United States I began work on mouse experiments, and when I returned to Japan I learned that human embryonic stem cells had been created. I was happy that they would contribute to medical science, but I faced an ethical issue. I started iPS cell research as a way to do good things as a researcher, and I wanted to do what I could to expand the merits of embryonic stem cells. If we make sperm or eggs from iPS cells, however, it leads to the creation of new life, so the work I did on iPS cells led to an ethical problem. If we don’t prepare debates for ethical problems in advance, technology will proceed ahead faster than we think.. ”

The “ethical question” Yamanaka pushed to find a way to “not keep destroying embryos for our research.”

Speaking with his co-workers at the University of Kyoto, immediately after receiving the award, Yamanaka showed dedication and modesty.

“Now – he said – I strongly feel a sense of gratitude and responsibility” gratitude for family and friends who have supported him in a demanding journey of discovery that lasted decades; responsibility for a discovery that gives hope to millions of patients. Now iPS cells can grow into any tissue of the human body allowing regeneration of parts so far irretrievably lost due to illness.

His modesty also led him to warn against excessive hopes. To a journalist who asked him for a message to patients and young researchers awaiting the results of his research heresponded: “The iPS cells are also known as versatile cells, and the technology may be giving the false impression to patients that they could be cured any day now. It will still take five or 10 years of research before the technology is feasible. There are over 200 researchers at my laboratory, and I want patients to not give up hope”

“Dozens of times – he continued – I tried to get some results and I have often failed in the experiments …. Many times I was tempted to give up or cry. Without the support of my family, I could not have continued this search. From now on I will be facing the moment of truth. I would like to return to my laboratory as quickly as possible. ”

Mainichi celebrated the new Nobel Laureate, saying emphatically that Yamanaka has “reversed the cycle of life” until now, scientists thought that new life could only be born from embryos. But to do this means manipulating and killing life itself. With Yamanaka’s discovery, old cells, can regenerate, and save embryos. “A process that is considered irreversible” instead revealed the existence of a new life cycle.


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