TOKYO The Japanese health ministry has approved clinical research on a regenerative treatment that utilizes donated induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells.
In treating a degenerative eye disorder in the past, researchers used iPS cells harvested from the patient's own body. Employing donated cells will likely reduce the cost and time of the procedure by about 90%.
After getting the green light, the government-affiliated Riken research institute, Kyoto University, Osaka University and the Kobe City Medical Center General Hospital began soliciting patients for the study on Feb. 6. "This is an important step that could determine medical treatments of the future," Masayo Takahashi, the project leader for Riken, said. Researchers aim to begin performing surgeries in the first half of this year.
The health ministry determined that the proposed clinical research satisfied safety requirements after Takahashi and others explained to a ministry panel that there are no concerns that iPS cells will turn cancerous.
The study will cover five patients suffering from age-related macular degeneration, an intractable eye disease that can lead to blindness. About 1% of people age 50 or over in Japan suffer from the disease -- the fourth-leading cause of blindness in the country and the No. 1 cause in the West.
Kyoto University will provide Riken with the iPS cells that will be grown into retinal cells. Osaka University and the Kobe hospital will perform the surgeries, which will involve injecting a solution containing the retinal cells into the back of the patients' eyes.
In 2014, Riken and others performed the world's first retinal transplant treating age-related macular degeneration with iPS cells. Those cells came from the patient's body. The process cost roughly 100 million yen ($880,000), which included tests for cancer. There was also an approximately 10-month preparatory period.
In contrast, the researchers carrying out this latest study say expenses will be limited to several million yen and the time between differentiation of the iPS cells to the transplant could be shortened to as little as one month.