Stem cell biologist Hiromitsu Nakauchi has been waiting for this moment for more than a decade.
After years of planning, the persistent researcher has at last received approval from a government willing to pursue one of the most controversial scientific studies there is: human-animal embryo experiments.
While many countries around the world have restricted, defunded or outright banned these ethically-fraught practices, Japan has now officially lifted the lidon this proverbial Pandora’s box. Earlier this year, the country made it legal to not only transplant hybrid embryos into surrogate animals, but also to bring them to term.
As a lead stem cell researcher at the University of Tokyo and Stanford University, Nakauchi has gone from country to country, chasing his dream of one day growing customised human organs in animals like sheep or pigs.
With more than 116,000 patients on the transplant waiting list in the United States alone, Nakauchi hopes his idea can transform lives.
That ultimate goal is still a long way off, but the next step in his research has at last been given the green light by ministry officials in Japan. As the first researcher to receive government approval since the 2014 ban, Nakauchi plans on taking things slowly so that public understanding and trust can catch up.
“We don’t expect to create human organs immediately, but this allows us to advance our research based upon the know-how we have gained up to this point,” Nakauchi told The Asahi Shimbun.