UCSF researcher Shinya Yamanaka was recently awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for discovering that mature cells can be reprogrammed into pluripotent stem cells.

Yamanaka was the first to produce induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) back in 2006. These cells are unique in that they are stem cells that are derived from an adult’s somatic cells, typically the skin cells.

The discovery has important implications for science as well as ethics. From a medical standpoint, the stem cells derived from a patient’s own skin cells exhibit less immune system response and rejection when reintroduced to the patient as a form of therapy than embryo-derived stem cells.

But more importantly, Yamanaka’s discovery has had a large impact of the ethical debate over stem cells derived from embryos. Embryonic stem cells have long been a hot topic among both conservatives and liberals. Inspired by his daughters, Yamanaka was determined to find an alternative to using embryos.

“When I saw the embryo, I suddenly realized there was such a small difference between it and my daughters,” Yamanaka said. “I thought, we can’t keep destroying embryos for our research. There must be another way. Patients’ lives are more important than embryos, but I do want to avoid the use of embryos if possible.”

In effect, Yamanaka’s work has completely changed the debate altogether. There is now no need for conservatives and liberals to argue about whether destroying embryos is justified to save lives. Yamanaka’s discovery of an amazing technique has delivered a compromise in a passionate debate.