Riken to test iPS cells in human trial

Posted: October 11, 2012 at 5:26 pm

Friday, Oct. 12, 2012

Stem cells derived from a mouse's skin won Shinya Yamanaka the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine on Monday. Now researchers in Japan are seeking to use his pioneering technology for an even greater prize: restoring sight.

Scientists at the Riken Center for Developmental Biology in Kobe plan to use induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells in a human trial using patients with macular degeneration, a disease in which the retina becomes damaged and results in loss of vision, Yamanaka, a Kyoto University professor, told reporters the same day in San Francisco.

Companies including Pfizer Inc. are already planning trials of stem cells derived from human embryos, but Riken's will be the first to use a technology that mimics the power of embryonic cells while avoiding the ethical controversy that accompanies them.

"The work in that area looks very encouraging," John B. Gurdon, 79, a professor at the University of Cambridge who shared this year's Nobel Prize with Yamanaka, said in an interview in London.

Yamanaka and Gurdon split the 8 million Swedish kronor (about 94 million) award for experiments 50 years apart demonstrating that mature cells in latent form retain all of the DNA they had as immature stem cells, and that they can be returned to that potent state.

Their findings offer the potential for a new generation of therapies against hard-to-treat diseases like macular degeneration.

In a study published in 1962, Gurdon took a cell from a tadpole's gut, extracted the nucleus and inserted it into the egg cell of an adult frog whose own nucleus had been removed. The reprogrammed egg cell developed into a tadpole with the genetic characteristics of the original tadpole, and subsequent trials yielded adult frogs.

Yamanaka, 50, built on Gurdon's work by adding four genes to a skin cell from a mouse, returning it to its immature state as a stem cell with the potential to become any cell in the body.

He dubbed them induced pluripotent stem cells.

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Riken to test iPS cells in human trial

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