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A health ministry panel on Thursday approved a Keio University clinical research project to transplant heart muscle cells made from induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells into heart disease patients.

The research will be carried out by a team led by Prof. Keiichi Fukuda for three people between 20 and 74 suffering from dilated cardiomyopathy, which lowers the heart’s power to pump blood. The first transplant will be conducted by the end of this year at the earliest.

The team will use iPS cells made by Kyoto University from the blood of a person who has a special immunological type with less risk of rejection.

The team will transform the iPS cells into heart muscle cells and inject about 50 million of them into the heart using a special syringe. Immunosuppressive drugs will be used for about half a year, and the team will spend a year checking to see whether the treatment leads to the development of tumors and irregular heartbeat or whether it restores heart function.

In January, Osaka University conducted the world’s first transplant of heart muscle cells made from iPS cells. The heart muscle cells were made into sheets and pasted on the surface of the patient’s heart so that a substance they emit can help regenerate the heart muscles. The cells themselves, however, disappear quickly.

Meanwhile, Keio University has confirmed in an experiment on monkeys that cells colonize after a transplant and heart function improves.

The university expects that transplanted cells will colonize over a long period also in the upcoming clinical research project.

According to the team, there are about 25,000 dilated cardiomyopathy patients in Japan.

A startup led by Fukuda is planning a clinical trial aimed at commercializing the iPS-derived cells, hoping they will also be used for the treatment of other cardiac diseases.

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