Japan approves landmark stem cell trials

Japan's government has given its approval to the world's first clinical trials using stem cells harvested from a patient's own body.

Health Minister Norihisa Tamura signed off on Friday on a proposal by two research institutes that will allow them to begin tests aimed at treating age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a common medical condition that causes blindness in older people, using "induced Pluripotent Stem (iPS) cells".

Stem cell research is a pioneering field that may offer a cure for conditions that are currently incurable, and scientists hope these clinical trials on a treatment for AMD may offer hope to millions of people robbed of their sight.

The tests will be jointly conducted by the Riken Center for Developmental Biology and the Institute of Biomedical Research and Innovation (IBRI) Hospital in Japan.

Riken will harvest stem cells, using skin cells taken from patients, a spokesman said.

The trial treatment will attempt to create retinal cells that can be transplanted into the eyes of six patients suffering from AMD, replacing the damaged part of the eye.

The transplant may be conducted as early as the middle of next year at the IBRI Hospital, he said.

AMD, a condition that is incurable at present, affects mostly middle-aged and older people and can lead to blindness. It afflicts around 700,000 people in Japan alone.

Groundbreaking work

Stem cells are infant cells that can develop into any part of the body.

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Japan approves landmark stem cell trials

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