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iPS Breakthrough

Japanese researchers have announced another major breakthrough in regenerative medicine. They've used iPS, or induced pluripotent stem cells on a patient suffering from a serious eye disease. The cells were generated from the patient's own body. And they say the tailor-made cells are free from rejection by the body's immune system. NHK WORLD's Yoshitaka Hirauchi reports.

Masayo Takahashi from the RIKEN Institute led the team that conducted the surgery. She and her colleagues spent months testing and cultivating iPS cells which can turn into various kinds of body tissue. She says Friday's surgery was a success.

"This is the first case of the clinical study. We think we've made a big step forward. But, at the same time we feel that we need to keep on trying to make more progress"
Masayo Takahashi / Project Leader

Researchers operated on a woman in her 70s. She is suffering from age-related macular degeneration and is losing her vision.

There is a light-sensitive layer at the back of an eye, known as retina. It receives the image and then sends it to the brain.

And Macula plays a key role. The disease creates unnecessary blood veins on the layer that causes blood to seep out and hurt the surrounding cells.

This is the image of how patients see things. Distorted or darkened. So far, there's been no cure for the disease.

The medical team viewed the iPS as a possible cure. They took cells from the patient's own skin and made iPS cells. They cultivated them into retinal cells.

And then they replaced them with the damaged part. They say the operation lasted about 2 hours, and that the patient is now doing fine.

But the researchers say they still have plenty of challenges with the clinical procedures.

They say it takes several months to cultivate iPS cells. The work requires special germ-free facilities, as well as highly-skilled researchers.

They are also required to thoroughly check patients in advance to prevent the implant from causing cancer.

Nobel laureate Professor Shinya Yamanaka developed iPS. He hails the new achievement. But, says there is still a long way to go.

"The surgery went without any problems. But we still need to carefully watch if the clinical procedure is safe. As the one who developed iPS I want to monitor how things progress."
Shinya Yamanaka / Professor, Kyoto University

Yamanaka says he hopes in the years ahead the research can be accelerated to help people suffering from various diseases get better.

Clinical studies using iPS cells are also being planned with patients with various other diseases. One is to develop a treatment for Parkinson's disease, by regenerating cranial nerve cells. Researchers are also looking at spinal cord injuries and strokes that damage brain cells.

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