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Yamanaka reopens stem cell debate

Republicans and anti-choice advocates, from President Bush on down, have argued that the new discoveries mean use of human embryos can and should be abandoned. They feel Yamanaka's success justifies their past opposition to the use of human embryos. And it now seems Yamanaka agrees.

Shinya Yamanaka, University of Kyoto, stem cell researcherThe ethical and political debate about using stem cells from human embryos has been reignited, through an interview with the Japanese researcher behind an alternate production method.

Shinya Yamanaka (right, from Wired), the Kyoto University researcher given co-credit for the discovery, alongside James Thomson of the University of Wisconsin, told The New York Times it was ethical concerns with using human embryos which drew him to his current work:

“When I saw the embryo, I suddenly realized there was such a small difference between it and my daughters...I thought, we can’t keep destroying embryos for our research. There must be another way.”

Thomson, who pioneered the creation of stem cells from human embryos in the 1990s, has expressed no such reservations, but Yamanaka said all his own work with human embryos has been done at UC San Francisco, to avoid Japanese restrictions.

In the last week there has been significant push-back from scientists concerning embryo-derived stem cells. The argument is that the Yamanaka technique is experimental, that the resulting cells are unreliable, and further progress still requires the use of human stem cells.

But Republicans and anti-choice advocates, from President Bush on down, have argued that the new discoveries mean use of human embryos can and should be abandoned. They feel Yamanaka's  success justifies their past opposition to the use of human embryos.

And it now seems Yamanaka agrees.