Posted on | October 8, 2012 by Rebecca Oas, Ph.D |
Today the Nobel Prizes for Physiology or Medicine were announced, with one of the awards going to Dr. Shinya Yamanaka, the Japanese researcher who developed a method for generating induced pluripotent stem cells: adult skin cells reprogrammed to behave like human embryonic stem cells. Notably, this procedure does not require the use or destruction of human embryos, bypassing the ethical problems associated with such techniques.
Dr. Yamanaka was profiled in the New York Times in 2007. The article illustrates how a trip to a friend’s fertility clinic and the sight of a human embryo through a microscope changed his life:
“When I saw the embryo, I suddenly realized there was such a small difference between it and my daughters,” said Dr. Yamanaka, 45, a father of two and now a professor at the Institute for Integrated Cell-Material Sciences at Kyoto University. “I thought, we can’t keep destroying embryos for our research. There must be another way.”
The other winner sharing this prize is Dr. John B. Gurdon, who was the first to successfully clone an animal, a frog, in 1962. Like Dr. Yamanaka, his discovery touches on important ethical issues, particularly when the discussion of cloning comes around to humans. In a commentary on the subject of human cloning, Dr. Gurdon and his coauthor wrote:
“If each of these embryos has fundamental human rights, this would make premeditated attempts at pregnancy by natural sexual reproduction the logical equivalent of mass murder. The ethical considerations basically come down to our society’s value system. Which is of greater value, the life of an adult or child dying from a degenerative disease, or a 5-day-old embryo that is little more than a ball of cells?”
In the words of each Nobel Prize winner can be seen a commentary on the value of the human person in its earliest stages: for one, a life to be protected, and for the other, an expendable ball of cells.