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An expert panel of the health ministry on Friday approved a clinical research program proposed by a Kyoto University team to transplant cartilage made from induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells to damaged knee joints.

Professor Noriyuki Tsumaki and other members of the team are planning to create cartilage with a diameter of 2 to 3 millimeters using iPS cells stored at the university’s Center for iPS Cell Research and Application (CiRA).

The team aims to carry out the first transplant this year. After a clinical trial by Asahi Kasei Corp., which supports the project, it hopes to put the technology into practical use in 2029.

Four people between the ages of 20 and 70 will undergo transplant operations using iPS cell-derived cartilage for their damaged knee joints, with the area of damage ranging from 1 centimeter to 5 centimeters. The team does not plan to seek additional patients for the program.

The team will monitor the four patients for one year after the operations to keep an eye out for possible development of tumors. If the operations succeed, the transplanted material will fuse with existing cartilage.

“There are many patients experiencing inconvenience due to damaged cartilage,” Tsumaki told a news conference at the Kyoto University Hospital on Friday. “We’ll work hard so that we can offer therapy methods.”

The team will also aim to apply the therapy to patients with osteoarthritis.

In 2014, Riken, a Japanese government-affiliated research institute, transplanted retina cells made from iPS cells as a treatment for an incurable eye disease, in the world’s first transplant of iPS-derived cells.

Later, similar transplant operations were conducted by Kyoto University for Parkinson’s disease and by Osaka University for corneal disease.