"Bioethics was my favorite class in law school," says UC Davis law school professor and stem cell ethicist Lisa Ikemoto. "It attracts me because it is inherently interdisciplinary."
Ikemoto is one of the newest members of UC Davis' rapidly growing stem cell program. She will join UC Davis Health System bioethicist Ben Rich in further integrating ethics into stem cell research and training programs.
Using an interdisciplinary approach, Ikemoto has become a nationally recognized pioneer in the field of "critical race theory," a form of legal scholarship that examines the potent impact of bigotry and prejudice – no matter how psychologically subtle or culturally ingrained – on the rights of the dispossessed.
Ikemoto's presentations, papers and public appearances have drawn wide praise from students and scholars who view her work as a cutting-edge exploration of civil rights law.
"Critical race theory explores the ways that racism, patriarchy and other historically rooted, deeply seated systems of oppression are so inherent in our society that they not only affect our institutional structures, but also our most basic cultural assumptions and norms," Ikemoto explains. "I use it in my scholarship and community work to uncover civil rights issues that civil rights law does not yet reach."
Recently honored for her pro-bono work to secure reparations for Japanese-Americans interned in this country during World War II, Ikemoto has been keenly involved in the legal issues that women, minorities and more specifically, Asian-Americans face in the U.S.
"Fascinated by science, and by biomedical science in particular," Ikemoto says her research on reproductive technology, the pro-choice/ pro-life debate and health-care disparities "led me into the issues raised by stem cell research."
Ikemoto reminds that while local decisions will create much of the legal and ethical framework that will govern stem cell research, it is an inherently global enterprise with mobile materials – and knowledge.
For that reason, "we need to use our local regulatory power thoughtfully, to encourage ethical practices in the global research industry," she says. "We need to address now the issues of who should benefit from and who will have access to publicly funded stem cell research."