Stem-cell pioneer banks on future therapies.


Progress toward stem-cell therapies has been frustratingly slow, delayed by research challenges, ethical and legal barriers and corporate jitters. Now, stem-cell pioneer Shinya Yamanaka of Kyoto University in Japan plans to jump-start the field by building up a bank of stem cells for therapeutic use. The bank would store dozens of lines of induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells, putting Japan in an unfamiliar position: at the forefront of efforts to introduce a pioneering biomedical technology. A long-held dream of Yamanaka’s, the iPS Cell Stock project received a boost last month, when a Japanese healthministry committee decided to allow the creation of cell lines from the thousands of samples of fetal umbilical-cord blood held around the country. Yamanaka’s plan to store the cells for use in medicine is “a bold move”, says George Daley, a stem-cell biologist at Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts. But some researchers question whether iPS cells are ready for the clinic. Yamanaka was the first researcher to show, in 2006, that mature mouse skin cells could be prodded into reverting to stem cells capable of forming all bodily tissues. The experiment, which he repeated with human cells in 2007, could bypass ethical issues associated with stem cells derived from embryos, and the cells could be tailor-made to match each patient, thereby avoiding rejection by the immune system. Japan is pumping tens of millions of dollars every year into eight long-term projects to translate iPS cell therapies to the clinic, including a US$2.5-million-per-year effort to relieve Parkinson’s disease at Kyoto University’s Center for iPS Cell Research and Application (CiRA), which Yamanaka directs. That programme is at least three years away from clinical trials. The first human clinical trials using iPS cells, an effort to repair diseased retinas, are planned for next year at the RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology in Kobe. Those trials will not use cells from Yamanaka’s Stock. But if they or any other iPS cell trials succeed, demand for the cells will explode, creating a supply challenge. Deriving and testing iPS cells tailored to individual patients could take six months for each cell line and cost tens of thousands of dollars. Yamanaka’s plan is to create, by 2020, a standard array of 75 iPS cell lines that are a

DOI: 10.1038/488139a
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@article{Cyranoski2012StemcellPB, title={Stem-cell pioneer banks on future therapies.}, author={David Cyranoski}, journal={Nature}, year={2012}, volume={488 7410}, pages={139} }