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Nipro closing in on stem cell cure for spinal cord injuries

Japanese medical group to seek approval with eye toward 2018 launch

OSAKA -- Medical equipment maker Nipro could commercialize next year a stem-cell-based treatment seen allowing people with spinal cord injuries to walk again.

The Osaka-based company has carried out joint research with Sapporo Medical University since 2014. They recently found success in trials where stem cells harvested from bone marrow and increased are returned to the body, where they concentrate in injured areas of the spinal cord and regenerate tissue.

Nipro will apply as soon as autumn to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare to register the treatment as a regenerative medicine product.

Patients who have lost the use of their limbs to spinal injury can regain some motor functions through rehabilitation. But this is hardly an actual cure.

Nipro still needs to develop techniques to make the new treatment widely available. At the moment, technicians can reportedly grow stem cells for just 100 or so people a year via manual procedures. About 200,000 people in Japan suffer from spinal cord injuries, a population that increases by around 5,000 annually.

The company is developing automation technology for production and testing, though the focus is on whether personnel can be further trained.

Nipro is also looking into whether the treatment can be applied to diseases of the brain. A clinical study now underway uses stroke patients.


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