To address illnesses that cause blindness, the health ministry has approved a groundbreaking plan to conduct the world’s first transplants of retinal cells grown from artificially derived stem cells received from donors.
A team of doctors is preparing to perform the transplants in the first half of the year as part of clinical trials on using so-called induced pluripotent stem cells.
In contrast to transplants that use cells taken from the patients themselves, experts believe using the cells of another person will reduce the exorbitant costs and waiting times.
The team includes researchers from the Riken Center for Developmental Biology and Kobe City Medical Center General Hospital. It received the green light for the operations from a health ministry panel on Wednesday.
By using iPS cells stockpiled from other people, the time needed to prepare for a transplant can be reduced to as little as one month from 11 months. And the cost, currently around ¥100 million, can be cut by a fifth or more.
The transplants will involve five people with wet-type age-related macular degeneration, a degenerative retinal disease that can lead to loss of vision. The doctors will use iPS cells stockpiled by Kyoto University that show a lower risk of transplant rejection.
The Riken Center for Developmental Biology in Kobe will grow the cells and the Kobe hospital, working with Osaka University, will inject them into the patients’ eyes.
In September 2014, a team of researchers from Riken and the Institute of Biomedical Research and Innovation Hospital in Kobe conducted the first retinal cell transplant involving a patient’s own iPS cells.
In light of its animal testing and genetic analyses, the team involved in the upcoming operations told the ministry panel that it does not see any risk of cancer developing afterward.
Since iPS cells can grow into various human body tissues, research is being conducted worldwide to apply the cells in the fields of regenerative medicine and drug development.