Nissan Seminar: Still a bit-player?: Japan and human embryonic stem cell research

Convenor(s): Professor Roger Goodman and Dr Giulio Pugliese

Speaker(s): Dr Silvia Croydon (Osaka University)

Still a bit-player?: Japan and human embryonic stem cell research


Human embryonic stem cell research (hESCR) stagnated in Japan in the 2000s. Since then, with the finding having emerged from within the Japanese context of how to turn back adult cells into pluripotent state, the perception has become reinforced with respect to traditional research involving fertilized human embryos here that it has ceased evolving. This talk will update the understanding in this regard. I will draw attention to the burgeoning activity within the laboratory of a Kyoto University developmental biologist who was authorized in 2017 to distribute human embryonic stem cells for clinical use. Relying on interviews and ministerial deliberations’ minutes, amongst others, I will argue that Japan’s political and scientific elite proceeded to sidestep the public misgivings about hESCR and advance it under the radar whilst attention was preoccupied with Shinya Yamanaka’s Nobel Prize-winning discovery. Given that the aforementioned authorization was given under the regulatory framework promulgated in 2013 for the purpose of commercializing therapeutic products made from the home brand of stem cell, the message emerges for the benefit of public policy analysts that the way in which a controversial biomedical issue is framed can determine how the science progresses.

Silvia Croydon, upon the completion of her doctoral studies at the University of Oxford, focused on human rights protection within the context of the Japanese criminal justice system, moved for work to Japan and have since been employed at Kyoto University, the University of Tokyo and Osaka University. This presentation is a by-product of her growing interest in the interface of reproductive rights and biomedical advancements. She is currently working on topics in bioethics, such as human germline genome editing, in vitro gametogenesis, stem cell research, as they pertain to Japan.