CiRA Reporter vol.18
April 26, 2019
Mika Suzuki

Sharing thoughts to a scientist you have never met

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CiRA Reporter

In Japan, there is very strong support of iPS cell research and clinical application from the general public. Much of this support is attributed to a favourable approval rating CiRA Director Shinya Yamanaka. (Editor’s note: Despite being publicly apolitical, in recognition of his status, Yamanaka was on a nine-member panel of outside experts discussing the name of the new era in Japan that will come into enforcement with the changing of the Emperor in May 1, 2019.) Of course, iPS cells and Yamanaka are not synonymous; many researchers around the world are responsible for the progress in the field.


From a clinical perspective, the biggest appeals of iPS cells are their potential to differentiate into any cell type at indefinite numbers. This feature has been a boon for regenerative medicine and drug discovery. The same feature has also made iPS cells an attractive model for studying human development. However, these experiments could lead to a number of troubling questions for cell donors. How many animals are being sacrificed for these experiments? Further, are the researchers learning anything about my genes and by extension about me? Even with any kinds of concerns, donors are giving CiRA and other research institutes their cells for science. Therefore, scientists must proceed with upmost respect towards the donated materials.


In general, cells are marked with a code so that the user cannot identify the donor. Nevertheless, it is difficult for a researcher to ignore that there is a person behind these cells. Does this knowledge in some way affect the research and the behavior of the researchers?


Regardless if the cells are being used by the researcher or are being distributed by the researcher to another organization, researchers should operate within rules that advance their work while at the same time respecting the thoughts of the donor. In order to improve trust for the stem cell research field, it would help if researchers give thought to the wishes and concerns of donors who give their samples to support this science.


Besides its science agenda, CiRA also wants to become a model research institute for research governance. It believes one component to achieving this goal is sharing the values between its scientists and the general public. I believe this value-sharing-based approach will encourage policies that build trust and a good relationship between researchers and the general public.


Written by Mika Suzuki