Yamanaka: Non-scientists Should Oversee Stem Cell Research

Posted by Jesse Reynolds December 17, 2007
Biopolitical Times
In a new interview [subscription required], Shinya Yamanaka - probably the leading researcher in the reprogramming of somatic cells for pluripotency - touched on the need for oversight of stem cell research. Perhaps most importantly, he emphasized that non-scientists need to take the lead in deciding what's acceptable:
Q: Who do you think should be responsible for deciding what is ethically acceptable?

These are very difficult decisions, and I think that society should make them. It should not be scientists. They can find it difficult to think like the person on the street, and instead may see it simply as a good opportunity. We scientists can be involved in the decision-making process, but I think unless society is comfortable with the therapy it should not go ahead.
He claimed that the induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells produced from cell reprogramming are less problematic than those from embryos, but not entirely free from concern:
I'm not sure whether we should try to make eggs from male iPS cells and vice versa. In theory, two men could use this technology to have a baby, because you could take skin cells and use them to make an egg.
He's previously noted that somatic cell reprogramming could be used to derive egg and sperm from the same person, which could then be fused. Note that the result would not be a clone. The person's genes are re-sorted during the formation of the gametes. So, for example, if the original individual is heterozygous for a particular gene, the offspring could be heterozygous, dominant homozygous, or recessive homozygous.

Finally, Yamanaka is relatively optimistic that somatic cell reprogramming will allow stem cell scientists to leave cloning behind them:
There is still the problem with retroviruses to overcome. If we cannot do this then there will still be a need for cloning. However, I think it will be possible.