Japan to begin first human tests with induced pluripotent stem cells

Blurring at the center of vision in macular degeneration

A preliminary panel of the Japanese Ministry of Health has given the green light for the first clinical tests in humans of a therapy derived from induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells to treat macular degeneration, the most common cause of blindness.

Induced pluripotent stem cells are mature cells like skin or blood that are reprogrammed to behave like embryonic stem cells. They were first produced using mouse cells in 2006 and using human cells in 2007 by Japanese scientist and Nobel Prize winner, Shinya Yamanaka.

The RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology , the research institute carrying out the study, still has to wait for formal approval from the Ministry, but is likely to get it within a matter of weeks. Researchers at will be creating iPS cells that will grow into retina cells that can then be transplanted into people with macular degeneration. They say they could begin the first human implants as soon as April 2014.

The Wall Street Journal has an in-depth article about the impending clinical tests here.

Several groups in the U.S. are working toward therapies based on iPS cells, though so far none have been given permission to test the cells in people. A CIRM Disease Team, led by Alfred Lane at Stanford, is one of those working toward a clinical trial using iPS cells. They are focusing on treating a horrible genetic skin disease called Epidermolysis Bullosa. It causes large skin blisters that rarely heal and usually leads to premature death. The team is collecting data to show the cells are safe to use in humans and hope to get FDA approval in the next few years. You can read a summary of the research here or watch the video below to learn more about that project:

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