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"Ethics should catch up with technology, especially in the field of life sciences"

Prof. Makoto Eseshima, currently the director of the Japanese Association for the Advancement of Science, says in an interview with the website Hedaman during the Life Science Baltics conference that developments in the field of stem cells and the brain will have ethical implications and should be taken into account as early as possible. Eshima is the discoverer of activin, the protein responsible for regulating cell development and division.

Prof. Makoto Eshima. Photo: Avi Blizovsky
Prof. Makoto Eshima. Photo: Avi Blizovsky

Avi Blizovsky

During the Life Science Baltics conference, Prof. Makoto Eshima was interviewed by the science website. He is an emeritus professor at the University of Tokyo and head of the Stem Cell Engineering Laboratory, director of the Japan Society for the Advancement of Science, and a fellow at the National Institute for the Advancement of Science and Technology in Industry.
Eshima is optimistic about the success of the field whose discovery, among other things, is responsible for its application - the field of stem cells for repairing defects in the body, from a damaged kidney to curing Alzheimer's, but he believes that ethics should come before science, and more on that later.

"Our technology and knowledge run fast, and our philosophy is in place. The gap between the two is growing, so it is important that there be mutual relations between ethics and technology," says Esshima. "If we take for example the science of physics, it brought us many things that help us in life. On the one hand he created the ability to produce atomic energy, on the other hand he also created the atomic bomb. Chemistry brought the nylon and the medicines, but also dangerous drugs and the pollution that spreads everywhere. Today the field of life sciences is developing at an enormous speed, and it runs at a pace that our philosophy cannot cope with. It is very important to achieve harmony between ethics and technology."

"Within ten years from today we will be able to produce a kidney from stem cells in humans, as is done today in experiments with monkeys, and there will be progress in the field of brain-computer interface. We will have to adjust ethics to address many issues in these developments and many other developments in the life sciences."

As mentioned, currently, among his other duties, he is a fellow at the Japanese Institute for Advanced Industry, Science and Technology. "In Japan today there is a strong tendency to move from basic science to applied science. Basic science is very important, but in my opinion there is a balance today between the investment in basic science and applied science. When it comes to basic science, Japan is very strong in biology and life sciences. The space sector is also quite strong, even compared to the USA (indeed Japan has a large space agency and it builds and launches satellites and spacecraft on its own, for example the Yabusa spacecraft that flew to Comet Itokawa and brought back a soil sample from it. AB). In addition, Japan is strong in a number of fields in physics (mainly atoms) and chemistry, and of course - and this is my field of expertise and the topic of the conference - life sciences."
"My field is developmental biology" explains Eshima, who in 1990 was a partner in the discovery and isolation of activin, a protein that participates in many biological processes, including regulating the rate of cell culture and the biological function of the cell. "For many years they searched for the molecule responsible for the cell life cycle. In 1990 I found this molecule, it is called activin because it is responsible for activating the mechanisms in the cell responsible for reproduction, differentiation into one of the many types of cells in the body, cell death, metabolism, its balance, the external response, wound healing and its endocrine function."
And what does this discovery have to do with stem cells? Well, explains Esshima, "to turn stem cells into heart cells, liver or any other organ you want, you have to use activin and this is an excellent example of moving from basic science to applied science. The field of stem cells is a very large and fruitful field. So far I have been able to transform stem cells in the laboratory into kidney, liver and beating heart muscle cells in amphibians that are used as a model. My colleagues were able to do this in humans as well."

I mean you are one of the founding fathers of the stem cell field?
"You can say that. I have been researching the field for 54 years."

What is the regulatory status of embryonic stem cell research in Japan compared to Israel where it is allowed?
"I am in contact with colleagues in Israel, and I even participated in a conference that dealt with the issue a few years ago. In Japan, the use of human embryonic stem cells is extremely limited due to the well-known ethical issues. Government approval is needed to use these cells. In my case, we switched from stem cells of frogs to those of monkeys and only then did we get to research in humans and my colleagues asked for permission and managed to produce a beating human heart from stem cells."

Where is the field of stem cells expected to go?
"In our bodies, in adult humans, there are mostly stem cells, which can turn into different types of cells, from brain and head cells to muscles, kidneys and more. The right thing would be to use stem cells from the body itself to repair damaged organs of the patient himself. It is also possible to produce induced stem cells (ordinary cells, usually skin cells, in recent years methods have been developed to turn back their "clock" and turn them into stem cells that can become any type of cell, AB). I would call it self-renewal. When we can activate the stem cells in the brain, it will be possible to cure Alzheimer's. We need to find the drug that will activate the stem cells in our bodies."

At the press conference at the opening of the Life Sciences Baltics conference, you said that your job today is to strengthen Japan's scientific ties with the rest of the scientific community, can you elaborate?
"Science has no boundaries, we create a relationship with each other, and appreciate each other's work. Despite today's effective means of communication, face-to-face meetings between scientists are still very important. We help scientists meet without borders. In general, scientists should create tools for peace. At the conference I met a lot of friends and colleagues from all over the world."

3 תגובות

  1. Japan is an important country, I believe that in 30 years Japan will be economically and culturally stronger. This is in contrast to China, which will go through a series of crises, which will put China on an internal reckoning.

  2. As the point implies,
    Ethics preceded technologies by thousands of years. Because all ethics says is "do no harm" and this applies to all technologies, old and new, but people use the technologies to make profits and control people, and ignore the ancient ethics.

  3. So let's move forward, contrary to outdated ethical thinking, we have moved forward, and from now on it is allowed to eliminate Eshima and burn him.

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