Great new Yamanaka interview on iPS cell safety, being a celebrity, & future plans

787 battery The Asahi Shimbun just published a fun, intriguing interview with Shinya Yamanaka, the Nobel Laureate who first produce iPS cells.

In the interview, Yamanaka says that the celebrity aspect of his new post-Nobel life has driven him to wear disguises when out running in public because he gets recognized so often.

Yamanaka is also asked about stem cell clinical safety and makes what I think is a brilliant analogy (Q is from the reporter and A is from Yamanaka).

Q: Why does it take so much time to ensure safety?

A: For those of us trying to harness new technologies, the Boeing 787 battery issue is not just somebody else’s problem. Even though they satisfied numerous criteria before flying the plane, and even though it flew for a year without any serious troubles, after that year had passed they started having problems. This teaches us that after first transplanting cells to a small group of patients, we must move on to the next step only after a sufficient observation period has passed.

To me this comparison makes so much sense. So many people hoping to profit off of stem cells try to sidestep the safety issue and claim that we know everything that needs to be known to, for example, infuse patients with billions of stem cells. But we have to accept that nature is complex and we cannot rush new medicines like stem cells. We also need to avoid the hubris by those involved to think they know everything. The lessons of the 787 battery (see picture of burned out one above) for the stem cell clinical field are patience, a sense of intellectual modesty, and above all a focus on safety. Yamanaka is very wise.

Yamanaka also imagines that iPS cells will have 80% of their impact through disease model and drug discovery.

In terms of the future?

Q: What course will your work take from now on?

A: My goal is to help patients. That path is not like a sprint, but rather an extremely long marathon. I will put forth my best effort and maintain a steady pace to reach the goal.

Overall I think you’ll really enjoy this interview.