A Japanese research team said Monday it will begin the world's first clinical trials involving transplanting retinal cells grown from iPS stem cells obtained from one person to another.
The team, including staff at the government-backed Riken institute, has started soliciting patients to participate in the study. It aims to perform in the early half of this year the first transplant using iPS, or induced pluripotent stem cells. donated from another person.
Last week the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare approved the clinical research, which could eventually help people with eye disease improve their eyesight.
The study "will become a significant step toward deciding what future treatment (for serious eye disease) will look like," said Masayo Takahashi, leader of the project at the Riken Center for Developmental Biology, at a press conference in Kobe.
Transplants may be carried out on five patients suffering from wet-type age-related macular degeneration, a form of retinal degenerative disease that can lead to loss of vision. The retinal cells will be grown from iPS cells stockpiled by Kyoto University that have shown a lower risk of immune rejection.
By using stockpiled iPS cells, the time needed to prepare for a graft can be reduced from 11 months to as little as one month, and the cost, currently around ¥100 million ($889,100), can be cut to one-fifth or less.
The Riken institute will grow the retinal cells, and a hospital in Kobe and Osaka University will inject the cells into patients' eyes.
In 2014, the team succeeded for the first time in the world in transplanting retinal cells in a woman using iPS cells from herself.
As iPS cells can grow into various human body tissue, research is being conducted worldwide to apply the cells in regenerative medicine and drug development.