Japanese researchers have taken a step forward in the world of regenerative medicine, conducting the first-ever human implant of tissue made from patient’s own cells using an induced stem-cell technology.
In Friday’s operation, the researchers transplanted retinal cells developed from the skin of a woman into one of her eyes. The woman, in her 70s, suffers from a degenerative eye disease that could lead to loss of vision.
The implant is the world’s first using the technology of induced pluripotent stem cells pioneered by Kyoto University’s Shinya Yamanaka, who won a Nobel Prize for his research. Japan is at the forefront of iPS cell research, an approach that doesn’t use human embryos, thereby avoiding the ethical issues that go with the use of embryo material.
While there are high expectations for regenerative medicine to treat a wide range of diseases ranging from heart disease to Parkinson’s in the future, the latest study is years away from becoming an everyday treatment even if it proves successful. The current study is a type of pretrial research under Japanese regulations that can’t immediately lead to approved therapies or commercialization.
The operation at the Institute for Biomedical Research and Innovation in Kobe, western Japan, went ahead without any complications, according to Japan’s Riken science institute. Riken’s Center for Developmental Biology is conducting the study.
The iPS cell technology reprograms mature cells to develop, like embryonic cells, into other kinds of tissue. Scientists say there are risks of the transformed cells forming tumors.
The development is welcome news for Riken after months of scrutiny over a scandal related to stem-cell papers that led to retractions and one of the co-authors committing suicide.
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