Clinical trial starts for iPS cancer treatment

Researchers in Japan say they have started a clinical trial of ovarian cancer treatment involving immune cells created from induced pluripotent stem cells, or iPS cells.

The team of researchers from the National Cancer Center Hospital East and Kyoto University's Center for iPS Cell Research and Application made the announcement in an online news conference on Thursday.

The iPS cells used in the treatment are capable of developing into any kind of cell. A gene that reacts strongly to a protein unique to a certain type of ovarian cancer is inserted into iPS cells to create natural killer cells. These NK cells will then be injected into the ovaries of patients with this type of ovarian cancer.

The team says it does not expect the treatment to cause serious side effects because NK cells attack cancer cells but seldom affect normal ones.

The team plans to conduct a clinical trial of the treatment on up to 18 patients with advanced cases of ovarian cancer that are no longer operable.

They will be administered NK cells once a week, for a maximum of four times, to determine the safety and efficacy of the treatment.

In the first case, a patient in her 50s underwent three sessions in September, and has reportedly shown no adverse reactions since then.

Dr Doi Toshihiko of the National Cancer Center Hospital East says his team aims to confirm the safety of the therapy, and will then work out a set of rules for the storage and transportation of NK cells, as the next step toward making the treatment widely available.

In a separate development last year, another group of researchers in Japan, involving the RIKEN research institute and Chiba University, started a clinical trial of cancer treatment using another type of immune cell -- natural killer T cells, generated by iPS cells.