Nobel Prize for stem cell technology

Did you read about the Nobel Prizes?

These days the Nobel Prizes are a joke and/or not even veil liberal social declarations.

I saw this on American Catholic.

Why are Catholics Praising the Nobel Prize Stem Cell Technology?

It’s been all over the news lately, particularly in the Catholic and conservative spheres, how Dr. Shinya Yamanaka won the Nobel Prize in medicine for reprogramming adult cells into induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs). People praised this research for creating new pluripotent stem cell lines to study without creating or destroying embryos. They claimed that the process doesn’t require any morally tainted source cells. They announced the feat as an achievement of great ethical significance, a beautiful and ethical science. They pointed out that the process does not pose ethical issues because embryos are not manipulated, and that embryonic stem cell research will soon be largely put out of business. What a moral victory!

However, digging into and decoding the scientific methodological explanations reveals that what is being praised is definitely not so praiseworthy. It reveals something quite significant, and it mostly hinges on one word — reprogramming. Did anyone notice that in all the cheering, little was explained about the method itself?

How is this reprogramming done? How did they “turn back the clock” on adult stem cells? How does a mature cell become immature again? Well, it’s not magic. The adult stem cell gets introduced to genetic material from other young cells – very young cells. Specifically, Dr. Yamanaka’s group used cells grown from the kidney of an electively aborted healthy child in the Netherlands.


Before leaping right in, take the time to read the whole thing.


Before leaping right in, take the time to read the whole thing.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in Emanations from Penumbras, Our Catholic Identity, The Drill, The future and our choices and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. traditionalorganist says:

    A great sinner am I, but I cannot fathom the heart or the mind that allows someone to coldly experiment upon a brutally murdered child.

  2. Denis says:


    Read the article. This is very good news for the culture of life.

  3. traditionalorganist says:

    Denis, I did read the article. Am I missing something? The question raised, in part, is whether it is licit to experiment on babies already murdered if the experimenter did not directly or indirectly will the murder. That’s how I read that. Getting down to the “bottom line” section is helpful too :

    “At this point there are no laws or regulations for this kind of thing and the bizarre thing is that the Catholic Church and other traditional stem-cell opponents think this technology is great when in reality it could in the end become one of their biggest nightmares,” he said. “It is quite possible that the real legacy of this whole new programming technology is that it will be introducing the era of designer babies.”

    Yes, the discovery is good for life, but, and my understanding of the author’s argument suggests this question too…do the ends justify the means?

  4. JPManning says:

    I am not sure I agree with the point made by Robert Lanza that we should be against this research because its legacy may be to introduce designer babies. I know that the technology will be put to bad use. I can see that they will make sperm from a woman’s cells so she can have a child with her lesbian partner. Almost all technology has been put to bad use though but that doesn’t make technology bad.

    I abhor their experimentation on murdered babies but we need to be careful that we express our objections about the wrong that has been done, not hypothetical wrongs that haven’t happened yet.

  5. traditionalorganist says:

    And sorry to break into so many comments…

    Utilizing the technology now IS a good thing but the means by which Dr. Yamanaka got there seems to be what is brought into question.

  6. Denis says:


    Sorry, I should have been clearer. Dr. Yamanaka’s research was problematic because he used kidney cells from electively aborted healthy children. However, one need not use cells from aborted babies to derive iPSCs. At least, that is my understanding, though I have to admit that I haven’t done extensive research on the topic. Therefore, though Dr. Yamanaka’s results were arrived at by immoral means, that wasn’t a necessary component of the research, and taking advantage of results doesn’t necessitate the use of immoral means. If I’m wrong about either or both of these points, I hope that someone will correct me.

  7. traditionalorganist says:

    @JPManning. You are correct about hypothetical wrongs that haven’t happened yet. I didn’t mean to suggest that we should throw it out because of what could be done with it…

    What we need are God-fearing doctors who aren’t afraid to say no when the situation demands it. Or those who are courageous enough to recognize their own frailties, and that they too are created beings. Reprogramming is more than just a technology, it has the potential to be an act of “playing God.” We should be careful.

  8. Cantor says:

    Having read the original American Catholic article and reviewed Dignitas Personae, I have no qualms at all in congratulating Dr. Yamanaka on his work. It seems that he endeavors to lead us towards drug treatment without the use of fetal tissues. We’re not there yet, but are making use of our God-given talents to get us there.

    The end may not even justify the means, but Dignitatis Personae explicitly states:

    Thus, for example, danger to the health of children could permit parents to use a vaccine which was developed using cell lines of illicit origin, while keeping in mind that everyone has the duty to make known their disagreement and to ask that their healthcare system make other types of vaccines available.

    I want those other types of vaccines, but when my then-2-week-old son nearly died of an infection, I never asked the doctors whence the drugs they used originated, and frankly I didn’t care. They worked. For that, I give thanks.

  9. LisaP. says:

    The opportunity cost of a couple decades of exploring stem cell research to exclusion of many other great lines of research is hard to tally.

  10. Magash says:

    The article itself poses the question of why doctors seem so intent on using these immoral means when it is possible to use, for example cells from umbilical cords. Like much of the evil in the world it comes down to money. If they use the cells of a living person then ownership of the results is open to litigation. If someone uses cells from my body to cure cancer big pharma fears I’ll try to get some of the cash. Cells from decade old murders, excuse me, abortions, do not have this problem as either the mothers are unidentified or are unknowing.
    It is horrible.
    I tried to get Debra L.Vinnedge into my parish for a talk, wouldn’t you know I wasn’t allowed because she didn’t have the proper Virtus training. Truly that was their excuse for not allowing her to speak in my diocese.

  11. frjim4321 says:

    I tried to get Debra L.Vinnedge into my parish for a talk, wouldn’t you know I wasn’t allowed because she didn’t have the proper Virtus training. Truly that was their excuse for not allowing her to speak in my diocese.

    Well, if that is their published policy (that all speakers must be Virtus trained) then that’s they policy. But I think it’s a bit extreme. I have to Virtus train the 18 year old who shovels snow in the middle of the night. But there’s nothing in this diocese’s policy (that I know of) that refers to outside speakers.

    Again, it goes to the published policy of the diocese – if that’s what the policy says that’s pretty much what they need to follow.

  12. wmeyer says:

    Well, if that is their published policy (that all speakers must be Virtus trained) then that’s they policy. But I think it’s a bit extreme.

    I am not so sure it’s too extreme. I am a member of Civil Air Patrol, and all adult members must receive Cadet Protection Policy training and examination, as soon as they become members. The Church has done a fine job of purging those who would prey on adolescents, but the rest of society has much left to do.

  13. Sissy says:

    wmeyer, I agree; every pair of eyes needs to be trained to watch over our children. Florida has gone to a “universal mandatory reporter” law, and I think it’s a good idea.

  14. PostCatholic says:

    “These days the Nobel Prizes are a joke and/or not even veil liberal social declarations.”

    They’re declarations from a committee formed in Norway (the other Nobels are awarded from Sweden) of Norwegians. As such, they represent the views of the intelligentsia of post-Christian (specifically post-Lutheran) largely mono-cultural secular society which enjoys an extremely high standard of living. Do you find it anomalous that such a culture is liberal?

  15. wmeyer says:

    Sissy, the training is one thing, but CAP applicants submit to an FBI background check, as well. And in any squadron where cadets participate, the rule is that no lone adult member may ever be alone with any lone cadet. The policy protects both, however, as false claims by cadets are not unknown.

  16. Sissy says:

    Good idea. When I was teaching, I never closed the door when a student was with me!

  17. The Masked Chicken says:

    Read the article. Sad. Bush should not have allowed research on existing ESC lines, either.

    On the other hand, the prize in chemistry was awarded to “Americans Robert J Lefkowitz and Brian K Kobilka … for their work on G-protein-coupled receptors, which allow cells to sense light, flavour, odour and receive signals from hormones and neurotransmitters. [Guardian, UK]”

    Hardly a joke or veiled liberal social declaration, that. Only the Peace and Economic Prizes are so spoiled, usually.

    The Chicken

  18. r7blue1pink says:

    Debi Vinnedge reported this back in 2008 and no one listened:

    EVERYTHING is very well documented on the website:

  19. Moro says:

    I am a scientist by training and I’ve read both Dr. Gurdon and Dr. Yamanaka’s papers that won the noble prize. While this aspect may be disturbing, we should not dismiss iPS cells entirely. There are multiple methods of deriving them. Such methods don’t necessarily employ the use of genetic material as described on the American Catholic blog post. In fact some methods may involve the use of small molecules (small, non-DNA, non-protein compounds) that can induce expression of pluripotency genes. So don’t dismiss iPS cells in their entirety. There are licit means to derive them and they present the best hope for stem cell therapies because we can produce tissues from a patients own cells and reduce the risk of immunologic rejection.

  20. frjim4321 says:

    wm, if I take a kid flying i just put a parent in the back seat and that seems to take care of any concerns … even with all the clearances i would still want a parent there, but imagine that would be hard in a shoebox

  21. Jerry says:

    @wmeyer – “I am not so sure it’s too extreme. I am a member of Civil Air Patrol, and all adult members must receive Cadet Protection Policy training and examination, as soon as they become members. ”

    Does the CAP require that a non-member who speaks at a single meeting where adults are present with the youth have the same training?

  22. jflare says:

    Folks, I could say plenty about the comparative merits of background checks or other protective procedures in organizations. Whatever my views may be, the article appears to be related to a medical procedure that produces cells that can be used for various means.

    I admit, I’m quite displeased with the nature of this award, as well as the research that led to it. These men may not hold to any particular belief regarding the sanctity of human life before birth, therefore it’s possible that what sin they may have committed would likely be mitigated by simple lack of education. Given the typical views of many medical people, this wouldn’t be surprising. Unfortunately, this would not mean that I could readily approve of widespread use of the procedure they’ve developed.

    Near as I can tell, they’ve discerned how to cause an adult cell to act like an infant cell, but they’ve used DNA from the cells of an aborted child to make it happen. In other words, until demonstrated otherwise, it appears to me that their procedure DOES require tolerance for the death of unborn children. Perhaps that’s rather brutal, but I recall reading this article elsewhere last week; I had the same impression then as now: this probably is not morally acceptable.

    I AM, in fact, a little concerned about this situation. I’m not a thoroughly trained medical professional, so I don’t know what the state of the art IS, but I recall being thrilled to hear within the past few years of adult cells that had been caused to act like younger cells.
    I hope and pray that the news I heard a few years ago didn’t come from the work these two men have done.
    I DO hope we’ve discerned means of doing research–and curing various ills–without having to rely on cell tissues from others.

  23. Cathy says:

    How does this square with the Nuremberg Code? The fetus, embryo cannot consent to donate his/her self for experimentation, nor can a child not yet conceived give consent, as in the case of designer babies, for experimentation. I love science, it is a great gift, but, really, it requires great boundaries as well. While I do not know the purposes for which ispc cells will be used, I feel pretty confident that there is a shift in medicine/research/science which does not struggle with natural boundaries and has no problem using what they know against the individual. For some reason, the majority of the world is beginning to feel like Germany in the Wiemar Republic.

  24. Gratias says:

    The induced Pluripotent Stem Cell method of Yamanaka allows one to make stem cells from a skin biopsy from someone with congenital heart disease, for example. You can then turn those cells into cardiac beating cells. You can treat those cells in the Petri dish with a variety of drugs and find out which one is best to treat that person. This is important progress because it allows us to generate models of human disease with the exact changes in their DNA as found in patients. It is a big mistake for Traditionalists to oppose this progress.

    As for Sir John Gurdon, he showed, using frog eggs, that all cells in our tissues contain a complete copy of our DNA that can be reactivated or reprogrammed. This was one of the oldest disputes in biology, and its resolution opens the door for regenerative medicine.

  25. jflare says:

    Gratias, I doubt if anyone opposes an approach that you suggest, nor other efforts like what you mention from Sir Gurdon. And, I can readily comprehend the concerns Cantor raises: Nobody REALLY wants to be forced to accomplish exhaustive research into the means a doctor might use to develop a vaccine that might save a child’s life.

    Unfortunately, some medical professionals HAVE used and WILL use precisely these circumstances to further an agenda.

    As an example, let’s remember that so-called “living wills” came about as a means by which a person could give advanced directives regarding extraordinary care–or rejection of same–in cases where the person might be incapacitated. It sounds great..right up to the moment you realize that medical science DOES have particular limits. Even the best of doctors can only give you a best guesstimate of a person’s real chances of survival. In the last few decades, we’ve surely heard of various cases in which someone who “should’ have been dead within six months..wound up living another 20 years..or even going into remission.
    I suspect other concerns could be raised in the same vein.

    I do not mean that we should simply refuse to allow for any form of “reprogramming” cells, but I think we DO need to be especially wary. If we’ve learned anything these past 40 years (or 100 even), we’ve learned that medical persons who don’t have a particular moral framework for guidance..can and will use almost any excuse for why they should be allowed to do as they believe they can.

    I don’t think it’ll be only “Traditionalists” who oppose this use of knowledge. I think almost any person from any background who values life can surely understand the threat this technology could pose.

  26. skypilot777 says:

    @Gratias: Did you read the article? Did you happen to make mental note of the very specific citations made from the Nobel laureate’s supporting documentation?
    Embrionic stem cells are used in the process. This involves the deliberate destruction of human life.
    Dr. Yamanaka’s group used cells grown from the kidney of an electively aborted healthy child in the Netherlands.

    Simply re-stating the Nobel committee’s (and Yamanaka’s) claim to a good end is no justification of the entire process.
    A basic moral tenet of Catholicism (and therefore of any follower of Christ) is:
    One must not do evil in order to attain a good.
    @Gratias: You said “It is a big mistake for Traditionalists to oppose this progress.
    I would say to you that it is a big mistake (a soul-imperiling mistake) for any Christian – Traditionalist or not – to lend their encouragement or support to any process that involves the destruction of human life.
    There have been hundreds of wonderful advancements – and cures – achieved through the use of adult stem cells that do not involve the destruction of human embryos (and therefore human life).
    I would admonish everyone to lend their support and encouragement to all scientists who are truly doing good work without doing evil in the process.

  27. LisaP. says:

    Except it doesn’t, it hasn’t, right?

    To date, none of the promise of stem cells has come to fruition, has it? My understanding is they have been used in one post-chemo therapy, and that’s all?

    I’m not saying it can’t ever happen, but the more I read about all kinds of stem cell research the more it starts sounding like those other things — those fountains of youth, those cities of Cibola.
    Then this story comes out, and that just gut checks that for me, because it’s always the most glittering prizes that power the engines of great wrongs.

    If this guy *could* have done his work without aborted fetal tissue but did not do so, that means something. If he couldn’t have done it without fetal tissue, that means something. I’m not saying to shut down all licit research, I’m saying that we need to positively deny any approval for any research done knowingly using murdered children. Period. No money, no acclaim, no approval, even of just “the good parts” of the research”.

    Five years ago there was a huge dust up in auto-immune “communities”, when the ESC debate was going on and the admin wanted to allow federal funding for it. This was a big political deal and the major fundraiser for Type 1 diabetes, JDRF, became a cheerleader and lobbyist for the funding. I was told I was a horrible person for opposing them spending donor dollars raised for a cure for lobbying. I was told a cure was right around the corner, the minute those federal funding gates were open. There was so much desperation in the air, parents just hitched every hope they had to this wagon of ESC research because it was so clear that this was the answer and we were so close. So the funding opened up, and the field got flooded with stem cell research, and anyone not giving at least some lip service to how wonderful stem cell research was got shut out on funding. Good avenues were shut down or research severely compromised and slowed because it was all about the stem cells. Now five years later, there’s no indication that stem cells are going to do a bit of good in treating or curing Type 1, and the major research fundraisers and corporations have moved to PR that says they are no longer looking for a cure (although, of course, if one fell into their laps they’d let us know), they are looking for better treatments and technology (better insulin pumps and blood sugar measuring, essentially) and for preventative treatments (which I imagine will come down to “preventing” diabetes the way they “prevent” Downs Syndrome now).

    (BTW, using juvenile diabetes as the poster boy for stem cells was particularly disingenuous, since Type 1 is autoimmune — it doesn’t do any good to get cells that won’t be rejected because they look just like your own, in autoimmune disease the body attacks its own cells.)

    So they raise false hope, pinned to what is essentially one of the oldest witchcrafts in the book (“if you are old and sick, eat the body parts of the young and healthy” — usually in a graveyard during a full moon or something like that), and then when that hope fails tell people there is no other hope and they must just give up and go with perpetual payments for medicine and machines.

    I realize adult stem cells are different, but it looks like maybe not so different — it is utopian and it justifies atrocity? Not where I want to put my hope.

    There are other avenues of medical research out there. Why stem cells continue to be the great white hope to the exclusion of so many other good things is beyond me.

  28. wmeyer says:

    Does the CAP require that a non-member who speaks at a single meeting where adults are present with the youth have the same training?

    No, but I can tell you from years of experience that non-members (even parents of prospective cadet members) are not unescorted.

  29. Gratias says:

    Human Embryonic Kidney cells, called HEK293 for short have been engineered over decades to tolerate foreign DNA and grow viruses. The development of many of the medicines you are ingesting today have benefitted from this cell line. In Yamanaka’s work HEK293 cells were used merely to propagate his gene cocktail before introducing it into adult tissues. Now one can reproduce his pioneering work just using proteins, no viruses involved. While no tissue therapy has resulted yet for humans, being able to study tissues with the exact mutations that afflict people represents huge progress. This is the kind of biomedical breakthrough that has extended human lifetime so much in the past few decades.

    At present scientists are treating animals with infarctions by injecting cocktails of genes that will trigger cardiac differentiation from heart connective tissue, for example. No cell culture will be required for this type of adult gene therapy approach. It is a mistake to oppose this Nobel Prize; remember the cost of the Galileo affair to the Church. Yamanaka’s work came through the application of his God-given reason and will help many.

  30. jflare says:

    It is a mistake to oppose this Nobel Prize; remember the cost of the Galileo affair to the Church. Yamanaka’s work came through the application of his God-given reason and will help many.

    Hmm. Interesting how people STILL cite Galileo as reason to challenge the Church’s authority. Perhaps one can argue that the clergy of Galileo’s time acted overly suspiciously in his case; if so, one can ALSO argue that Galileo, himself, didn’t precisely act with the greatest in humble intentions either.
    I also find it ironic that people howl about Galileo, essentially an astronomer, when addressing genetics. Study of genes wouldn’t exist as we know if not for Mendel, a Catholic monk.
    I might point out that most of those who cite the former typically do so at the expense of the latter precisely because in today’s world, scientists have frequently forgotten–or refused to admit to–the existence of God. In their eyes, our Almighty Father amounts to a Medieval fairy tale that tyrant priests and bishops created to scare and bully the faithful populace.
    Such a sentiment holds up to thorough scrutiny only VERY poorly!

Comments are closed.