Dr. Yamanaka: Patient Voices Count


By Matt Wilsey


For those of your interested in stem cells, The Japan News has published a great (and accessible) Q&A with Dr. Shinya Yamanaka, the doctor who won the Nobel Prize for generating stem cells from blood or skin instead of embryos. Needless to say, he’s brilliant. And we’re honored to have him be a part of the Grace Science Foundation’s work. His bottom-line…researchers need to prioritize patients over papers. We couldn’t agree more.


Dr. Yamanaka meeting Grace and making sure her blood draw went smoothly. The blood was immediately taken from the draw and processed to make iPSCs (stem cells).


Many people disagree with Dr. Yamanaka. They feel prioritizing patients is to deprioritize basic research. Basic research (just papers) is what allows translational research (helping patients) to come about. These people argue that stripping away basic research to fund translational research will get short term gains as you scrape through the pipeline of possibilities, but will reduce those possibilities for the next generation.

We would counter that prioritizing patients and supporting basic research aren’t mutually exclusive. In fact, we strongly believe they go hand-in-hand; they are symbiotic. Basic research and translational research are both vitally important and the Grace Science Foundation is supporting both in very significant ways.

In terms of papers, publishing is a good thing. We agree that publications are absolutely critical to expand knowledge and to avoid redundancy. In the past, we’ve shared basic research papers on our social media channels. We are incredibly proud to showcase them, especially the ones we have funded. We are also urging the basic scientist we are sponsoring to publish more and faster.

That said, we have also seen publications get so much focus in labs that the researchers lose sight of the patients whose lives are hanging in the balance. Smart people get involved in science / medicine to help people. Unfortunately, many researchers in academic labs lose that focus because publishing becomes an anvil over their head. They must publish or they will perish. People start to focus on “publishable” areas instead of areas that could advance treatments. It’s the currency for promotion and job stability.

In that world of publish or perish, the focus on patients can erode. And despite all these papers, where are the treatments and cures? They are pretty darn few. Frustrating for millions who are suffering. So, when the focus is upon publishing at the expense of saving lives, science / medicine falls short of its true potential and purpose. We believe Dr. Yamanaka is trying to recalibrate the pendulum in order to bring more balance, and improved outcomes for patients around the world. We fully support that concept and are so thankful he is a key member of our scientific team trying to cure NGLY1.

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