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Science

iPS-based medical research entering new stage, says scientist

Shinya Yamanaka

OSAKA -- Induced pluripotent stem cells will soon find their way out of laboratories and into hospital rooms for treatment of an array of ailments, said the scientist who discovered this potent tool in regenerative medicine.

     The cell research is "entering the second stage," said professor Shinya Yamanaka, the head of Kyoto University's Center for iPS Cell Research and Application, or CiRA. Speaking to The Nikkei Wednesday during a conference marking the 10-year anniversary of his groundbreaking discovery, the Nobel laureate said he expects iPS research to be used to treat Parkinson's disease, as well as ailments affecting blood and cartilage, in the near future.

     His aim is to quickly establish a method to transplant nerve tissue created from iPS cells into patients. Kyoto University plans to test the treatment on Parkinson's patients as soon as this year or next. Regenerative medicine for blood platelets and cartilage is nearing the application stage.

     The cells were first put to medical use in 2014 when a patient suffering from age-related macular degeneration of the eyes received retinal tissue produced from iPS cells. Clinical research focusing on liver diseases is expected to start between 2019 and 2020, while similar research for kidney diseases will likely begin as early as 2025, according to the science ministry.

     Funds are crucial to accelerating the medical application of iPS research. In pursuing research that requires government approval [for medical applications], Yamanaka will "partner with companies to raise research funds," he said. CiRA currently receives roughly 4 billion yen ($35 million) from the government and about 500 million yen a year in donations.

     CiRA entered into a joint research collaboration with Takeda Pharmaceutical at the end of last year, with the latter providing 20 billion yen in research assistance over 10 years. Reportedly, the partnership is already bearing fruit. The center also joined hands with Sumitomo Dainippon Pharma on Parkinson's research and Kyowa Hakko Kirin, another drugmaker, on cancer immunotherapy studies.

     The research center plans to tackle cancer and infectious diseases next. "I want to pursue new life-science research using iPS cells," said Yamanaka. He looks to open up a new department within the premises and utilize existing methods to research "next-generation techniques" that will turn cancer cells back into normal cells.

     "I also want to do research looking into infectious diseases like the Zika virus," said Yamanaka. Cells formed by iPS cells can be used to find out the workings of transmitted diseases, leading to cures, he said. "My dream is that a young person will come upon ideas I haven't thought of and win the Nobel Prize," he added.

(Nikkei)     

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