Japan takes lead in trialing a human stem cell therapy

In what could be the first human trial of a man-made stem cell therapy, Japanese researchers reached a key milestone in pursuit of approval for human testing of an experimental treatment for macular degeneration, Nature reported on a blog.

It's surprisingly fast progress for induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells as human therapies, as only last year scientists took home Nobel hardware for their work on coaxing mature cells to a stem-like state, giving the cells an ability to develop into a wide variety of cell types. Incidentally, one of the Nobel laureates is Japan's Shinya Yamanaka, whose countrymen now appear to be leading the way for iPS cells toward the clinic.

As Nature reports, the Kobe-based Center for Developmental Biology's Masayo Takanashi grabbed conditional approval from an institutional review board at the Institute for Biomedical Research and Innovation for testing an iPS cell-based treatment for age-related macular degeneration in a small 6-person study. The trial needs to notch approval from Japan's Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare to go live and could begin actual testing in patients in 2014.

The blog described the iPS cell therapy as a sheet of epithelium cells from patient's own body cells. Plans call for researchers to surgically remove diseased pigment epithelium cells with the iPS-based sheet to slow the effects of the blindness-causing illness.

The World Health Organization rates age-related macular degeneration as a "priority" eye ailment and the third-leading cause of blindness after cataract and glaucoma.

- check out Nature's report

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