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Fear of unknown barrier to iPS cures, expert says

Kyodo

Masayo Takahashi, who led the world’s first operation to implant induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells into a human body, says greater Japanese understanding of the risks and benefits of new medical procedures is key to achieving her goal of standardizing the procedure one day.

About two months after her team successfully transplanted retinal cells grown from iPS cells into a woman in her 70s with age-related macular degeneration, Takahashi, an ophthalmologist at the Riken Center for Developmental Biology in Kobe, said she wanted to make the treatment available and affordable in about 10 years.

“My goal is to make the treatment a standard one,” Takahashi said Wednesday at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan in Tokyo, adding that the pioneering operation in September was “just a start.”

The operation was primarily aimed at checking for any medical problems that might arise, including the possibility of cancer, after iPS-derived retinal cells were transplanted to the patient, whose form of the disease could lead to loss of vision.

It is expected to take around a year to assess the safety and side effects of the transplant operation.

“The most difficult part of the surgery was removal of damaged tissue,” Takahashi said. “So we were very excited when the damaged tissue was removed safely.”

The surgery, performed by a team of researchers at the Riken institute and the Institute of Biomedical Research and Innovation Hospital, was the first in which iPS-derived cells were introduced into a human body.

Developed by Nobel Prize-winning Kyoto University professor Shinya Yamanaka, iPS cells are a versatile type of stem cell that can grow into various types of human body tissue.

However, a potential “obstacle” to spreading the treatment is reluctance among Japanese to take risks when they encounter something new, including medical treatments, according to Takahashi.

“In Japan, people don’t accept risks at all,” she said, adding it is necessary to accept a certain level of risk when receiving advanced medicine and it is important to understand the “balance” between risks and benefits.