The British scientific journal Nature has chosen Japanese stem cell researcher Masayo Takahashi as one of their “five to watch” scientists for 2014. The researcher from the Riken Center for Developmental Biology gained prominence in the scientific community this year when she was chosen to lead the world’s first clinical study using induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells.
The study that she is leading involves trying to reverse macular degeneration by using the iPS cells to develop human retinal pigment epithelium. This is a pigment that is believed to nourish retinal visual cells and thus may be the key to solving the age-related disease that afflicts around 700,000 elderly people in Japan, causing them to have vision loss because of retinal damage. The clinical trial, to be conducted on six people as early as summer next year, was approved by the Ministry of Health earlier this year.
Takahashi, an ophtalmologist by profession, has been studying the potential of iPS cells in rebuilding dead tissue for more than a decade already. It was the pioneering work of another Japanese scientist, Shinya Yamanaka, that has enabled them to reach this stage in their study. Yamanaka co-received the Nobel Prize for medicine this year together with Britain’s John Gurdon for their groundbreaking research that revolutionized the understanding of how cells and organisms develop. If Takahashi’s research brings positive results, it can help get her more investors to be able to conduct a larger formal clinical trial.
[ via Asahi Shimbun ]