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Feel the depth of material and time of life through iPS cell research and developmental biology (3) -All 3 episodes-

Prof. Shin-ichi Nishikawa

Photo:Prof. Shin-ichi Nishikawa

Important to have multiple ethical standards

Interviewer :
According to a media report, a research team of the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare has worked out a plan for the safety guidelines for the application of iPS cells to regenerative medicine.

Nishikawa :
We have to work on this kind of matter, besides our research activities.
In the past, if researchers did not accomplish their goals, they would use the government regulations as an excuse.
However, researchers will be required to discuss a wide range of subjects including ethical and regulation issues, and make their efforts to address them. I think the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare is required to deal with these problems at an international level, in cooperation with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), for example.

Interviewer :
I think these should be done while Japan is maintaining a priority in this field of research.
Everyone involved in regenerative medicine has no choice but to face ethical issues, including "Savior sibling" (the savior sibling is conceived through in vitro fertilization. Fertilized zygotes are tested for genetic compatibility, and the stem cells derived from zygotes that are compatible with the existing child who has illness are implanted). What thoughts do you have?

Prof. Shin-ichi Nishikawa

Nishikawa :
I think it is important to have several options. If we have an absolute standard, then we have no choice but to follow the course : "ethics – determinism - religion".
However, I am opposed to the idea of an ethical standard controlling everyone. I would like to suggest the formation of solidarity in which people accept each other's ethical standards. It is important to discuss about governance required to realize it. It is a kind of community study.
I propose a plan of a "Gesellschaft" in which multiple ethical standards are allowed to coexist.

The other day, I attended a meeting between patients with fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva (FOP) and health care professionals. An important issue raised at the meeting was that it is not allowed to distribute cell lines derived from a patient to other researchers. Why? Because such cell lines contain pieces of information with which the patient is personally identifiable.
However, the patient has already disclosed his/her disease to the mass media, to make the public understand the situation. While the patient is willing to disclose his/her personal information to contribute to the society, current regulations generally do not allow it. I think we have to change such a situation.

The origin of his thoughts and quest for biology

Interviewer :
It seems to me that your thoughts have some unique points.Where do you think those unique ideas come from?

Nishikawa :
Although I majored in natural sciences when I was a student, I am always very interested in humanities and liberal arts.
Around the period of the student movement around 1970, I came across a book titled "Technology and science as an ideology".
During the 19th century, technology and science began to become integrated, and the States came to support the development of science and technology. After a hundred years, there came a situation in which any contradictions in a regime could not be solved without science and technology.It was not a simple story of Marx's formula "labor produces surplus value", but it was said in the book that science and technology were the only thing in which the States invested money to produce surplus value, in other words "science=regime".It was said that science and technology were nothing but a regime, or an ideology.
It was why the public became anti-science, in reaction against the scheme "science=regime".
Reviewing this structure, Professor Helga Nowotny (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology) and others proposed an agora (public place) as an interface, where the public is allowed to discuss again the question of "science=regime".
In this way, some books I read in my youth and social trends at different moments are a source of my thoughts.

Prof. Shin-ichi Nishikawa

In the modern age with advanced science and technology, there have appeared non-Euclidean geometry and the theory of relativity, and philosophers find it difficult to support monism. Aristotelian metaphysics has been replaced by epistemology. How about biology?

It is interesting to think about time of life, with DNA in mind, that is not physical time.
In biology, time cannot exist without information, and this is what we find difficult in biology. Whether information is embedded/imprinted in physical chemistry of life, we do not know.

As we understand more of epigenetics, based on findings in iPS cell research and developmental biology, we come to find a clue to understanding "how living organisms use short-term memory of information".
However, we still know nothing about the interface between information and physical chemistry. Information is in the material itself. We will be in quest of "what is biology".
"Space and time of life" will be an important theme of research for me, and also for young researchers.

Interviewer :
Thank you for taking your time to let us share your interesting and important ideas.


Interviewed by Miwako Honma (supervisor of iPS Trend website), Katsuaki Sato,Mio Watanabe(Japan Science Technology Agency)
Published on 20 May, 2010

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Prof. Shin-ichi Nishikawa

Deputy Director of RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology
Group Director of Stem Cell Research Group, RIKEN
Deputy President "Director, Division of the Regenerative Medicine, Foundation for Biomedical Research and Innovation
Doctor of Medicine
Physician

1973 Graduated from Kyoto University Faculty of Medicine
Resident physician, medical staff, and medical assistant at Chest Disease Research Institute of Kyoto University
1980 Fellow at Institute for Genetics, University of Cologne, Germany (with a fellowship of Humboldt Foundation)
1983 Associate Professor at the Animal Experiment Facility for Infections and Immunology, Chest Disease Research Institute, Kyoto University
1987 Professor at the Division of Pathology (current Division of Morphogenesis), Institute for Medical Immunology, Kumamoto University School of Medicine
From 1993 to 2000 Professor of Molecular Genetics, Laboratory of Genetic Medicine, Department of Molecular Medicine, Graduate School of Medicine Kyoto University

Since 2008 Program Officer of S-Innovation (Strategic Promotion of Innovative Research and Development) "Establishment of a new health care industry based on iPS and other cell technologies"
Research Supervisor of "Understanding Life byiPS Cells Technology",JST Basic Research Programs "PRESTO"

Awards :
1997 Memorial Award of Seiji Makoto, Japan Lydia O'Leary Memorial Foundation
1999 Philipp Franz von Siebold-Preis (German government)
2002 Academic Award of the Mochida Memorial Foundation for Medical and Pharmaceutical Research

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