In 2007, the world of science was stunned to learn that a lone researcher, working in a small, underfunded laboratory in Kyoto, Japan had made a historic breakthrough.
For a decade, the debate over human stem cell research had pitted the ethical concerns of religious leaders and policy makers against the demands of medical research. Human stem cell research has long offered the promise of curing and preventing otherwise untreatable diseases and injuries, but the only pluripotent stem cells available for experimentation were those harvested from fetal tissue or from discarded human embryos. Moral objections to this research led a number of governments -- including those of Japan and the United States -- to impose stringent restrictions on further research.
When Dr. Shinya Yamanaka of the University of Kyoto succeeded in converting the skin cells of adult mice back into a stem cell-like pluripotent state, the news spread like wildfire through the scientific world. Everywhere, the same question sprang to mind. Would Yamanaka's technique work with humans as well as mice? By the end of the year, Yamanaka had duplicated the results with human cells. His discovery was hailed by scientists and religious leaders as a breakthrough that overcame the moral objection to stem cell research.