Nobel Prizewinner Motivation: Not What You Might Think

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Nobel Prizewinner Motivation: Not What You Might Think

Human embryonic stem cell research deliberately destroys large numbers of human embryos in the process of doing the research.  This is an ethical issue for many people, who object to the killing of tiny human beings.

It suddenly became an issue for one embryonic stem cell researcher, Dr. Shinya Yamanaka.  He was visiting a friend who had a fertility clinic.  The friend invited him to look at an intact human embryo through a microscope.

The NY Times described the moment:  ‘The glimpse changed his scientific career. “When I saw the embryo, I suddenly realized there was such a small difference between it and my daughters,” said Dr. Yamanaka. … “I thought, we can’t keep destroying embryos for our research. There must be another way.” ’

His changed focus led to a process for converting adult skin cells into embryonic-like stem cells by a process he termed reprogramming, and it won him a shared Nobel prize in medicine this year.

Pro-life groups applaud his achievement.   It helps to outline the basic difference between adult stem cell research, which uses tissue cells and adult stem cells that are present in the body after birth, and embryonic stem cell research, which uniformly results in the death of the embryo.

So far there has not been a history of reported successes in clinical trial with embryonic stem cells, but there are hundreds of thousands of patients who have benefited from adult stem cell treatments in the US.  Adult stem cells are used in the treatment of over 70 diseases and debilitating conditions.

Even with Yamanaka’s process, there are still certain ethical hurdles to be overcome.  However, this is a large step in the right direction.

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