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NCBC Congratulates Nobel Prize Winner

10/17/2012

The National Bioethics Center congratulates Shinya Yamanaka for his much-deserved 2012 Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine. This scientist from Kyoto University, Japan, was awarded the prize for his discovery that mature cells can be reprogrammed to become pluripotent, that is, can become a highly flexible stem cell that can give rise to most cell types of the human body, but not another whole human being.

With this discovery, science now has an effective means for providing medical researchers with the types of stem cells that are needed for studies that may provide new cures for some of the most debilitating diseases. Of considerable note is the fact that the production of these cells does not involve the destruction of human embryos and so is free of any morally problematic associations with the taking of innocent human life.

Indeed, one of the motivating factors that drove Dr. Yamanaka to turn away from embryonic stem cell research and to make his inquiries into this very promising area was his realization that the embryos he was viewing through the microscope were in fact no different from those embryos who were once his own daughters, now grown and healthy. Other researchers, who had presented themselves as indifferent to the moral dimensions of this issue, also breathed a sigh of relief when this extraordinary new method of producing pluripotent stem cells appeared on the scene.

Sadly, those who seek absolute purity in this fallen world are already calling on their fellow Catholics to forgo any praise for this remarkable scientific achievement. They have detected minor and distant associations with the practice of embryonic stem cell research in Yamanaka's work and this has led them to find fault with virtually the entire field of pluripotent stem cell research. They seem unaware of the Church's teaching on cooperation or unwilling to apply those principles in any coherent way.

The work of Yamanaka, as well as the motivating force behind his efforts, deserves our highest praise and encouragement. We thank him and his entire research team for showing us a path forward through one of the most serious and challenging moral thickets of our times.

Edward J. Furton, Ph.D. NCBC Director of Publications