Denver, Colo., Oct 17, 2012 / 16:00 pm
Although concerns have been raised about the unethical source of some cells used in Shinya Yamanaka’s efforts to reprogram cells into stem cells, moral theologians insist that the work could lead to ethical advances in the field.
“The initial insight unfortunately involved tainted material, but it gives way to an application of that knowledge which can be perfectly morally licit,” Father Thomas Berg, Professor of Moral Theology at St. Joseph's Seminary in Yonkers, N.Y., told CNA on Oct. 16.
The American Catholic published a post on Oct. 15 questioning praise in Catholic circles of the results of Yamanaka's research, which was initially performed using cells derived from aborted human fetuses and human embryonic stem cells.
“That in itself no one is praising … I wouldn't have described myself as praising the work of Yamanaka in that sense,” Fr. Berg said in reference to an Oct. 8 interview with CNA.
“But I am praising the potential for the good that can come from this technology.”
Yamanaka published a paper in 2006 demonstrating that intact, mature cells can become immature stem cells. He inserted genes into mouse cells which reprogrammed those cells so that they became stem cells, and was later able to perform the technique with human cells.
These reprogrammed cells are pluripotent, meaning they can develop into a wide variety of specialized cell types. Yamanaka's breakthrough opened the door to studying disease and developing diagnosis and treatments.
Since this technique produces a stem cell from any cell, it provides an alternative to human embryonic stem cells, which are derived from destroyed human embryos.