Researchers close in on iPS trials


Researchers have moved one step closer to clinical trials using adult stem cells in a therapy they hope will prove a cure for common vision problems, an official said Thursday.

The ethics committee at the Institute for Biomedical Research and Innovation in Kobe on Wednesday approved a trial treatment for age-related macular degeneration using induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells.

The trial is aimed at creating retinal cells that can be transplanted into the eyes of patients suffering from age-related macular degeneration, a presently incurable disease that affects mostly middle-aged and older people and can lead to blindness.

The institute, together with government-backed research institute Riken, “will submit an application for a clinical trial with Riken to the health ministry by the end of next month,” hospital official Kosuke Nagi said.

If a clinical trial using iPS cells is approved, it “would be the first ever,” a health ministry official said, adding that a trial using embryonic stem cells — harvested from human embryos — had already been undertaken by a U.S. firm.

Stem cells — infant cells that develop into the specialized tissues of the body — have sparked great excitement because they offer the chance of rebuilding organs damaged by disease or accident.

Until fairly recently, the only way to obtain stem cells was to harvest them from embryos.

Religious conservatives, among others, have objected to research on human embryonic stem cells because they hold that the destruction of a fetus, necessary for the harvest, is wrong.

But pioneering work done in 2006 by Shinya Yamanaka at Kyoto University, a Nobel laureate in medicine last year, succeeded in generating stem cells from skin tissue.