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Japanese Woman is the First to Receive Stem Cell Derived Retinal Tissue Implant to Her Eyes

For the first time ever, surgeons from the Kobe City Medical Center General Hospital implanted a retinal tissue derived from the patient's own cells that were first reverted to 'pluripotent' state.

The technology of reverting adult cells into induced pluripotent cells is being intensively developed since it is as much promising as embryonic stem cell research but does not raise ethical and safety concerns as the latter. The work is basing, in particular, on the research Shinya Yamanaka, a stem-cell scientist at Japan's Kyoto University, who discovered how to convert adult specialized cells into induced pluripotent stem cells able to give rise to various body tissues and shared the 2012 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for that work.

The first patient to receive the implant was a 70 year old Japanese woman suffering from age-related macular degeneration, an eye disease that is characterized by a progressive vision loss that may end up in blindness. During a two-hour surgery, the surgeons implanted a small (1.3 by 3.0 millimetre) sheet of retinal pigment epithelium cells into a patient’s eye.

Prior to the surgery, the ophthalmologist Masayo Takahashi had took some skin cells of the patient and reprogrammed them into induced pluripotent stem cells. She then guided those cells to differentiate into retinal pigment epithelium cells that formed a sheet for implantation.

The patient had no problems after the surgery. Although the implantation is unlikely to restore the patient's vision because of gravity of the disease, at least in the short-term, it can help halt its progression. Moreover, researchers over the globe will be watching closely the progress in the patient’s condition to see whether the cells are able to halt the further destruction of the retina and  avoiding side effects at the same time.


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