The Japanese government finally gave its approval for the world’s first clinical trials using stem cells that will be harvested from the patient’s body. Health Minister Norihisa Tamura gave permission for two research institutes to start their tests to treat age-related macular degeneration (AMD) by using “induced Pluripotent Stem (iPS) cells”.
The Riken Center for Developmental Biology and the Institute of Biomedical Research and Innovation (IBRI) Hospital in Kobe will be doing the joint testing to treat AMD, a condition that usually causes blindness among the elderly. This condition is incurable at the moment, and affects around 700,000 middle-aged to older people in Japan alone. Their proposal was approved by a government committee last month, but they had to wait for the Health Ministry to sign off before starting the tests.
Riken will harvest the stem cells from the patients while IBRI will conduct the transplant by the middle of next year. The trial treatment will try replacing the damaged part of the eye of six patients who have AMD with the retinal cells that will be created from the harvested stem cells. This would not have been possible if the iPS cells were not discovered a few years ago, since the only way to get stem cells back then was to harvest it from human embryos, which had to be destroyed. This was something that religious conservatives and pro-life activists were totally against due to the moral and ethical implications.
It all changed when in 2006, Shinya Yamanaka, winner of the Nobel Laureate in medicine in 2012, from Kyoto University was able to successfully generate stem cells from adult tissue. These iPS cells are able to grow into any other type of tissue from the human body, and have been called the future of regenerative medicine.
[ via AFP ]