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A project to make induced pluripotent stem cells, known as iPS cells, promptly and widely available at lower cost will get underway next year.

The My iPS Project will feature the creation of iPS cells, which can change into various types of functional cells, from the blood or other tissues of the patients themselves, to avoid rejection when a transplant is performed.

The project will be led by the CiRA Foundation at Kyoto University, which has taken over the business of stockpiling iPS cells from the university's Center for iPS Research and Application.

Headed by Shinya Yamanaka, a stem cell researcher and professor at the university who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2012 for his pioneering work in iPS cell technology, the foundation was set up in September 2019 to make the business an independent operation financed by earnings and donations. It became a public interest foundation in April.

When a transplant is performed, the rejection of cells occurs if human leukocyte antigen, or HLA, from the donor is different from that of the recipient.

But with iPS cells produced from a person who has inherited the same type of HLA from his or her parents, rejection is considered rare for cells transplanted in another person with the same type of the antigen.

Using this knowledge, CiRA at Kyoto University has produced 27 kinds of iPS cells from the blood of seven healthy people and supplied them to research institutions and private companies for use in clinical studies and trials to facilitate regenerative medicine.

In 2017, research institutions such as Riken transplanted retina cells produced from the iPS cells in five patients suffering from intractable eye diseases. The first transplants of their kind in the world were followed by the transplants of nerve cells to the brain of a Parkinson's disease patient at Kyoto University and of a cardiac muscle sheet to a cardiac patient at Osaka University.

But the iPS cells stored by CiRA are of four kinds in terms of HLA type, estimated to eliminate rejection for only about 40 percent of all transplants for Japanese people. At CiRA, furthermore, iPS cells are manually cultivated by three well-trained people who are also responsible for preventing the entry of impurities and checking quality.

CiRA, therefore, can produce iPS cells only for three patients per year and transplants cost ¥40 million per person.

To reduce rejection, the foundation will develop technology to culture iPS cells from the blood or other tissues of the patients themselves and lower the cost of transplants. Starting in 2021, it will build a facility for automated processes from cultivation to inspection to stockpiling.

The project will be financed from the ¥5 billion that Tadashi Yanai, president and chairman of Fast Retailing Co., has pledged to donate to Kyoto University over 10 years.

The facility, with a total floor space of 1,500 square meters, will have many cylindrical, automated incubators as tall as human beings. It is planned to be completed in January 2025 so that its technology can be exhibited at the World Exposition to be held in Osaka in the year. To show appreciation for the donation, the facility will carry the name Yanai.

The project will realize the "ideal use" of iPS cells, Yamanaka said, declaring the aim of supplying them to 1,000 patients per year at ¥1 million per person.

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