Pioneering stem cell transplant could provide future diabetic retinopathy treatment

Jack Woodfield
Thu, 30 Mar 2017
Pioneering stem cell transplant could provide future diabetic retinopathy treatment
A Japanese man has become the first person in the world to receive reprogrammed stem cells from another person. It is a procedure which could potentially offer a future treatment for people with diabetic retinopathy.

It is hoped this pioneering stem cell transplant will prevent the gentleman, who is in his 60s, from going blind due to age-related macular degeneration (AMD). AMD is similar to problems that can result from diabetic retinopathy.

During the operation doctors reprogrammed skin cells taken from a donor into a type of retinal cell. It was then put into the patient's retina.

This was done by adopting iPS-cell technology, a technique that allows stem cells to be manipulated into a different type of cell needed for treating a specific disease.

In 2014 a similar operation took place, which involved a woman who received retinal cells from iPS cells, but they had been taken from her own skin.

Nobel prize-winning cell scientist Shinya Yamanaka from Kyoto University pioneered iPS cells and carried out both procedures.

Speaking at a press conference after the most recent operation, she said the surgery had gone well but there was still a long way to go as they needed to monitor the newly introduced cells.

"We are at about the halfway mark, but there is still a precipitous path ahead of us," Yamanaka said.

"While several clinical trials have begun in the United States using embryonic stem cells, the United States and other nations are carefully watching what Japan does involving the use of iPS cells."

If using cells taken from a third party is deemed successful, this could pave the way for faster and cheaper transplants in the future, rather than using cells from the patient.

The researchers will be monitoring the cells to ensure they will not develop into tumours and to see whether the patient’s eye further deteriorates.

The findings appear online in The New England Journal of Medicine.
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