In Japan, the world’s first clinical trials were conducted using stem cells taken from the patient himself, which give hope to millions of people to regain their eyesight. The Japanese government has also supported research efforts by scientists to develop treatments for age – related macular degeneration (AMD), which is the most common cause of blindness in the elderly. Scientists are trying to artificially recreate retinal cells, which can then be transplanted into a patient to replace the damaged part.
AMD is an incurable condition at present. It affects middle-aged and elderly people and can lead to complete blindness. In Japan alone, the disease occurs in 700,000 people. Stem cell research is a cutting-edge area that excites many in the scientific community and has tremendous potential. Stem cells can develop into any tissue and replace any part of the human body. A few years ago, the only source of stem cells was the human embryo. Today scientists can create stem cells from “adult” skin tissues – iPS cells. Breakthrough work done in 2006 by Xingya Yamanaka of Kyoto University, winner of the Nobel Prize in Medicine last year, succeeded in creating stem cells from adult skin tissue.
Like embryonic stem cells, iPS cells are capable of transforming into any cells in the body, but their fundamental difference is their easy availability. Only after government approval were Japanese scientists able to begin clinical trials of the new method. The study will be carried out with the participation of six patients aged 50 years, who will be transplanted with iPS cells. Patients will be monitored over the next four years to determine how well the organs will accept the implants and whether there will be no malignant neoplasms.