Researchers are finding more and more ways in which to generate new body tissue into new organs using stem cells every day. Now, for the first time, the government of Japan has given its approval for a trial in which scientists can use pluripotent stem cells from patients’ own bodies to treat age-related macular degeneration (AMD) The process, developed by Professor Shinya Yamanaka (who shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2012) involves “coaxing” samples of the patient’s own skin back to the stem cell state.
The announcement was made by Norihisa Tamura, the country’s health minister of Japan, who added that the initial trials would be conducted on 6x patients with age-related macular degeneration, who will receive cell transplants with the hope that the treatment will restore their vision. The trial will be conducted by the Riken Center for Developmental Biology and the Institute of Biomedical Research and Innovation Hospital in Kobe.
While a similar process was used involving embryonic stem cells, Yamanaka feels that since “the stem cells are derived from the patient’s own body, there is a lesser risk of rejection in treatment.” In addition, it also avoids all the (ethical) controversy involved with using fetal cells. The one disadvantage, however, is that since pluripotent cells are a rather recent discovery, scientists still need to learn more about the “safety of treatment using them.”
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) can occur in either wet or dry forms resulting in the loss of vision in the center of the visual field (the macula) due to retinal damage, making it difficult or impossible for people to read or recognize faces, although enough peripheral vision remains to allow other activities of daily life.