Patient in Japan is first recipient of induced pluripotent stem cell transplant

Written by Elena Conroy

Surgeons implanted a retinal pigment epithelium which was reprogrammed from patient’s skin.

Two weeks ago, a Japanese woman in her 70s, was the first person to receive tissue derived from induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSC). The patient suffered from age-related macular degeneration which results from the breakdown of retinal epithelium, a layer of cells that support photoreceptors needed for vision.

Masayo Takahashi, ophthalmologist of the Institute for Biomedical Research and Innovation, developed and tested the epithelium sheets and reprogrammed the cells from the patient’s skin to produce iPSCs.

The procedure was led by Yasuo Kurimoto of the Kobe City Medical Center General Hospital who implanted a 1.3 by 3.0 millimetre sheet of retinal pigment epithelium cells into an eye of the patient. The patient “took on all the risk that go with the treatment as well as the surgery”, Kurimoto explained in a statement released by RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology. “I have utmost respect for the bravery she showed in resolving to go through with it.” Kurimoto went on to thank Nobel laureate and iPSC pioneer Shinya Yamanaka as well as Yoshiki Sasai: “This project could not have existed without the late Yoshiki Sasai’s research, which led the way to differentiating retinal tissue from stem cells.”

The operation was performed only four days after a health-ministry committee gave clearance for the human trial. This operation is both a huge milestone and one of the fastest translations from bench to bedside in terms of iPSCs. This was due to recent changes in regulations in Japan’s clinical translation pipeline, meaning that clinical innovations may be faster but they still hold potential risks when it comes to first in-human studies.

This is a very exciting time in regenerative medicine, and the patient was clearly very brave – now it’s a matter of watching her very closely.

“We’ve taken a momentous first step toward regenerative medicine using iPS cells,” stated Takahashi. “With this as a starting point, I definitely want to bring iPS cell-based regenerative medicine to as many people as possible.”

See the full press release here