Shinya Yamanaka: “I want to find a way to avoid using human embryos”

Publié le : 16 November 2012

 During the visit to Paris of the Japanese researcher Shinya Yamanaka, on Tuesday 13 November, Sciences et Avenirmagazine interviewed the winner of the Nobel Prize for Medicine about his research on induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS).

Asked about what he dreamed of achieving "with the iPS cells before the end of his career," Shinya Yamanaka, a former doctor, replied: "we can see two applications for iPS cells: regenerative medicine and the discovery of new medications. I truly hope that they will become real in the next 10 or 20 years." He added that he really believes that by then, "these stem cells will be in routine use in hospitals," and that "macular degeneration will be the first disease to be treated with iPS cells.
 
To the question of knowing whether, insofar as "the iPS cells are reprogrammed cells, [we can regard them as] similar to ‘new’ cells,” the Japanese researcher replied: "I think that they are almost new cells. My view is that we are working on a time machine for the cells. It enables us to take cells back to the embryonic stage." Asked about the difference in potentiality between iPS cells and embryonicstem cells, Shinya Yamanaka pointed out: "these two types of cells are very close. For the moment, we cannot say that it is impossible to distinguish stem cells from iPS cells, but they resemble each other greatly. I hope that we will soon be able to replace embryonic stem cells by iPS cells in different applications," adding that "everything that we will be able to do with embryonic stem cells I think we will be able to do with iPS cells."
 
Instead of providing treatments with cells obtained from each patient, Shinya Yamanaka recommends providing them from cell lines cultivated in the laboratory: "we are trying to set up stocks of iPS cells, rather than obtaining cells from each patient. We hope to obtain 10 or 20 lines of iPS cells from the cells obtained from volunteers in good health." He adds: "above all, this will be more practical because we can prepare cells in advance, and less expensive. But this will also be the only way to treat patients in emergency situations, as for example with those who have suffered damage to the spinal cord."
 
Lastly, to the question whether he "began to work on iPS cells as he was unable to carry out research on embryonic stem cells," Shinya Yamanaka replied: "I want to find a way to avoid using human embryos, that’s my motivation."

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