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Regulating cell lives in Japan: avoiding scandal and sticking to nature

Author: Margaret Sleeboom-Faulkner

Abstract:

The life sciences in Japan have been reappraised since late 2007 developments in human induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cell research. This article analyzes how Japan’s research on fetal cells, human embryonic stem cells and iPS cells is co-produced with policies on funding, sourcing, bioethics, international regulation, and intensifying international competition. I argue, first, that regulation of human embryonic stem cell research (hESR) in Japan, though attempts have failed to engage the public, has been shaped through the leverage of social groups; and, second, that the 2007 reappraisal of hESR and the efforts made to advance to clinical applications in 2008 reflect a change in the orientation of policymakers toward regulation. Using anthropological notions of natural symbols, the article shows how the regulatory emphasis on what is regarded as ethical in the case of hESR has been confused with “safe” procedure, and how a risk-averse change in favour of iPS cell research according to stem cell scientists actually formed the reckless option.

The full article can be found online at http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/14636778.2011.598052