On Wednesday, a government panel gave Japanese scientists approval to carry out the world’s first clinical trial with human stem cells. Researchers at the RIKEN institute and the Foundation for Biomedical Research and Innovation are one step closer to moving on with their plan to use induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells extracted from skin cells to reverse retinal damage.
This landmark approval comes shortly after Japan’s Shinya Yamanaka, a Kyoto University professor, won the 2012 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine for his years of research and development of iPS cells. As they are a “blank slate” of sorts, iPS cells are able to grow into any other type of tissue from the human body, thus they are seen as the possible future of regenerative medicine. However, the clinical trial hasn’t been given a full green light just yet, as the researchers must still win another approval from Japan’s minister of health before they can begin.
Should they be given the go-ahead, the team will create iPS cells from patients struggling with age-related macular degeneration, a condition that causes retinal damage and leads to varying levels of vision loss. Expected to take place sometime next year, the developed cells would then be transplanted into the clinical subject’s retinas. This will be followed-up by studies into how effective the treatment was in restoring any vision.
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