Reactions to the visit of the 2012 Nobel Prize winner in Medicine to the French Academy of Sciences

Publié le : 27 November 2012

On Tuesday 13 November, when opening the symposium of the French Academy of Sciences dedicated to the regeneration of tissues, Shinya Yamanaka, the Japanese winner of the Nobel Prize in Medicine 2012, talked about the applications that his research on adult stem cells might lead to: "the treatment of age-related macular degeneration (AMD), for which a clinical trial will be launched in 2013, then Parkinson’s disease, damage to the spinal cord and blood diseases."

In her address, the honorary Perpetual Secretary of the Academy of Sciences, Nicole le Douarin, said that the "genius" of Professor Yamanaka resided “in the fact of having developed a revolutionary method that overcomes the ethical and technical impasses involved in research on embryonic stem cells." While the visit to France of Shinya Yamanaka, on the initiative of the Academy of Sciences, "had been planned before the announcement of the Nobel Prize in Medicine", it "took on its full significance with the worldwide awareness created by the Nobel Prize of the importance of the advance represented by this discovery [i.e. of iPS cells] for science and its current and potential applications in the field of health."

In a statement, the Fondation Jérôme Lejeune, said that "it is all the more interesting to hear Professor Yamanaka express himself in Paris since France took a long time to fully appreciate his research findings on animal iPS cells published in 2006, and on human iPS cells in 2007."

Turning to the real advances made on embryonic stem cells, the Fondation Jérôme Lejeune pointed out that "after 20 years of research around the world and the dispensations granted since 2004 in France by the Biomedicine Agency, research on the embryo has not led in concrete terms to the spectacular therapeutic applications that were announced." In contrast, "whereas human iPS cells have existed only since 2007, Prof. Yamanaka has presented convincing results that already exist (for modelling diseases and screening molecules) and the promising prospects (for cellular therapy) that these cells offer, without using the embryo." This echoes what Mrs le Douarin said in her address: "the iPS cells are closer to the goal and the first application developed for cellular therapy is the treatment of AMD for which a clinical trial will be launched in 2013."

Noting that the "Japanese government realised the full importance of the discovery and began supporting Prof. Yamanaka in 2009, by financing his research work with a grant of €40 million," the Fondation Jérôme Lejeune pointed out that "it is crucial for French research to look for a similar realisation from the political leaders of our country. The next test will be on 13 December in the Senate with the return of the debate on the authorisation of research on the embryo." It put the question: "Will France decide for the anachronism of removing restrictions on research in this field?" This would "open the door for funding that would necessarily be to the detriment of research on iPS cells, and would have no other effects than to satisfy the expectations of the pharmaceutical industry." It concluded by pointing out that "if, in spite of all this, France refuses to choose and wants everything, it will have nothing."

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