Friday, October 17, 2008

A life-changing glimpse through the microscope

This revealing story of a scientist's change of heart regarding embryo research appeared in The Washington Post. Dr. Shinya Yamanaka of Kyoto University, Japan, is credited with coming up with the idea of 'reprogramming' adult stem cells to behave like embryonic cells and thereby avoiding destroying human embryos.

The article describes Dr Yamanaka's desire to find an alternative to embryo research after he visited a friend's ferility clinic and looked at a human embryo under the microscope. He said: “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.”

However, the sting in the tale is that Dr Yamanaka still uses human embryos in his work though he does not handle them himself, saying that it is unavoidable at the moment but his aim is to avoid using them altogether. It is a little like saying: "I heard the sound of the baby's heartbeat and thought, 'we've got to stop killing babies like this. Unfortunately, I still have to kill a few but I aim one day to stop.'"

I wonder what Dr James Sherley would make of this particular vacation of reason?