Japan’s government-backed Riken scientific research institute announced on Thursday that it was formerly applying for permission to conduct clinical research on regenerating human retinas using induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells). The last year has seen a number of breakthroughs in iPS cell research, with Japanese scientist Shinya Yamanaka winning the Nobel Prize for his work. If the government approves, this will be the first time human body tissue is grown.
iPS cells are significant in that they are like a “blank slate,” and can grow and develop into any other type of cell from the body, whether it be an organ like kidneys, or even outer layers of skin. Ophthalmologist Masayo Takahashi with the Riken Center for Development Biology will be leading the clinical study taking place at the Foundation for Biomedical Research and Innovation Hospital in Kobe. He says his team will be trying to develop treatment techniques to cure age-related macular degeneration, a condition that often leads to sudden vision loss because of retinal damage.
The scientists will take samples of skin cells from approved patients and turn them into iPS cells, which will then be developed into the parts of the retina to be transplanted. If the research team is given permission, this will be the first time an iPS cell transplant involves humans. Because of this, it is expected that the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry will spend several months examining the application. Yamanaka, a Kyoto University professor, say he is happy to hear Riken’s research team has filed the application, and add that he will continue helping Takahashi’s team with their clinical research.
Riken has clarified that the transplant trials will only be with patients whose conditions can’t be treated by existing medicine, and while they must have almost lost their eyesight due to the disease, the transplant will not offer dramatic improvements. If these tests proves successful, the next step would involve transplants on those in the early stages of the disease with a goal of restoring eyesight. Riken currently plans to offer commercialized iPS cell transplants by the year 2020.
[via Jiji Press]
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