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Blood transfusions with iPS cells OK’d by Japanese health ministry

Kyodo

The government has given the green light to using blood transfusions including platelets created from artificially derived stem cells to treat patients with intractable diseases.

A team from Kyoto University plans to begin a transfusion trial using induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells) that will be the fourth clinical test using iPS cells approved by the health ministry and the first to use blood components.

Researchers are expecting iPS cells to become a new source for platelets, replacing transfusions of donated blood that tend to be deficient. They might also be used for transfusions for surgery or severe injuries on a regular basis, they say.

“We will prepare for the tests steadily and take every step carefully,” Kyoto University professor Koji Eto said at a news conference in Tokyo after approval was granted.

Under the plan, researchers will generate platelets from the iPS cells of an individual with aplastic anemia, a disease that diminishes red blood cells and platelets, and transfuse them to the individual three times, gradually increasing the number transfused to up to 100 billion in the final round.

They aim to initiate the clinical trial in a year and spend another year to confirm its safety.

Individuals with aplastic anemia are usually treated by transfusions of other people’s blood, but the individual in the trial cannot receive such treatment as his body rejects it, the researchers said.

Leukemia, anemia and other patients who tend to have low platelet counts often get transfusions during operations.

At present, blood donated from healthy people is used for transfusions. But since it is stored at room temperature, it may be contaminated by bacteria, which will ruin the platelets. Blood donations have also been leveling out, especially among the younger generation, raising concerns about shortages.

Separately, the Kyoto researchers are trying to create platelets from the iPS cells of healthy people that will be stored at the university for transfusion to others.

Among other clinical tests with iPS cells, the state-backed Riken institute conducted the world’s first transplant of retina cells grown from iPS cells to an individual with a serious disease in 2014.

Osaka University, which is planning a clinical test for treating heart failure by using a heart muscle cell sheet created from iPS cells, and Kyoto University, which is planning to treat Parkinson’s disease with iPS cells, have also received government approval.