Innogen  ·  Publications  ·  Journal articles
State-Supported Science and Imaginary Lock-in: The Case of Regenerative Medicine in Japan

Mikami, K

Science as Culture   24 (2) 183-204

DOI: 10.1080/09505431.2014.945410

March 2015   (First published online September 2014)

Regenerative medicine (RM) in Japan lays strong emphasis on a specific trajectory of its development, which deploys human induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells as the primary sources for the technology. The technique to create these stem cells was developed in 2006 by a Japanese stem cell scientist, Shinya Yamanaka, and since its applicability to human cells was established about a year later, this new type of cells has become to be considered as a potential substitute for human embryonic stem cells. While the clinical value of these cells are yet to be confirmed, the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology decided to concentrate its support on iPS cells research and turned it into a national project. This decision reflected the state’s vision of initiating the transition to a knowledge-based society, which was adopted in the 1990s to tackle the prolonged deflation in the country. As the research became intertwined with this policy vision, however, the Ministry came to see bringing its success as more important than ever, while other trajectories of RM were left underrated and largely unsupported. Industrial actors counteracted this situation and developed an initiative to recognize existing technical capability in the country, but its impact has been so far negligible. This indicates that the nation is locked in the particular trajectory of RM. Hence, this Japanese RM research enterprise presents an interesting case to understand how states’ commitment may not only shape the course of scientific research but also reduce flexibility in technological development.