Researchers in Japan are looking to use the recent discoveries of Nobel Prize winning Shinya Yamanaka to treat a degenerative eye disease in what would be the world’s first clinical trial of induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells). An ethics committee at the Institute for Biomedical Research and Innovation gave its approval this week for the trial, meaning work could begin as early as the 2013 fiscal year.
Scientists plan to use iPS cells in a therapy for age-related macular degeneration, or vision loss. The ethics committee’s approval is only the first hurdle, however, as now the institute must submit an application for the clinical trial to the government’s Health Ministry, which could take roughly six months from March for approval, assuming there are no problems. The trial will be conducted by a team led by Dr. Masayo Takahashi, and will be done in cooperation with Riken, a scientific research foundation affiliated with Japan’s Ministry of Science and Technology.
Age-related macular degeneration mostly occurs in people who are middle-aged or older, and, if left untreated, often leads to blindness. The current drugs on the market are known for only treating symptoms and not fighting the disease itself. The goal of the clinical trial is to create retinal cell sheets from iPS cells, which take the form of any other cells from the body, and transplant them into patients’ eyes. Six patients, all aged 50 or older and for whom existing drugs do not work, will be chosen from the institute’s hospital and, if successful, have corrected vision below 0.3 on the Japanese scale. The Japanese government has already stated it will be spending 110 billion yen (approx. $1.18 billion) over the next 10 years to sponsor research on the application of iPS cells.