Induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells have been moving towards practical use in medicine quite rapidly since their discovery eight years ago, and here researchers will run a first test in a human patient:
A Japanese patient with a debilitating eye disease is about to become the first person to be treated with induced pluripotent stem cells. Unlike embryonic stem cells, iPS cells are produced from adult cells, so they can be genetically tailored to each recipient. They are capable of becoming any cell type in the body, and have the potential to treat a wide range of diseases. [The] trial will be the first opportunity for the technology to prove its clinical value.
In age-related macular degeneration, extra blood vessels form in the eye, destabilizing a supportive base layer of the retina known as the retinal pigment epithelium. This results in the loss of the light-sensitive photoreceptors that are anchored in the epithelium, and often leads to blindness. [Researchers] took skin cells from people with the disease and converted them to iPS cells. [They] then coaxed these cells to become retinal pigment epithelium cells, and then to grow into thin sheets that can be transplanted to the damaged retina.
[Researchers] have shown in monkey studies that iPS cells generated from the recipients' own cells do not provoke an immune reaction that causes them to be rejected. There have been concerns that iPS cells could cause tumours, but [the] team has found that to be unlikely in mice and monkeys. To counter further fears that the process of producing iPS cells could cause dangerous mutations, [the] team performed additional tests of genetic stability. Guidelines covering the clinical use of stem cells require researchers to report safety testing on the cells before conducting transplants.