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Keio Univ. team from Japan uses iPS-derived cells to treat spine injury in world 1st

This undated file photo shows a building of Keio University in Tokyo's Minato Ward. (Mainichi)

TOKYO -- Keio University announced on Jan. 14 that it successfully conducted surgery to transplant cells made from induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells into a patient with spinal cord injuries in December 2021.

    It was the world's first treatment of a spinal cord injury using iPS cells, according to the education facility. The patient is apparently in good condition three weeks after the surgery, and will be checked for a year to confirm the safety of the cell transplant. This is the first case of a clinical research project to obtain national approval as a treatment method, and three other patients will also receive cell transplants. The research team said, "It will take at least three to five years to put it into practical use."

    The team led by Hideyuki Okano, professor of physiology at Keio University, received approval for the project by the Japanese government in 2019. When the spinal cord connecting the brain and body is injured due to an accident or other reasons, the motor function and sensation beyond the injured area become impaired. The patient in this case underwent surgery two to four weeks after being injured.

    According to those who performed the operation including Masaya Nakamura, professor at Keio University's orthopedic department, they put the patient under general anesthesia face-down, and made an incision in the membrane covering the spinal cord from their back to transplant 20 microliters of liquid containing about 2 million cells, which are the source of nerve cells, into the injured area. The surgery reportedly took about four hours to complete.

    The transplanted cells were iPS cells deriving from another individual produced at Kyoto University and were differentiated at Osaka National Hospital for transplantation.

    Regenerative medicine using iPS cells is being clinically applied in the treatment of intractable eye diseases as well as heart and neurological conditions. Up to now, cells that had matured after differentiation from iPS cells or almost-matured cells were used for the transplants. In the latest operation, immature cells were used, so that they would develop into cells that aid the nerves and nerve function, becoming part of the body's signal transmission tissue. If too immature, cells derived from iPS cells may become a tumor, so it is important to confirm they are safe.

    An independent monitoring committee will evaluate the safety of the treatment based on the data of the patient three months after the operation. If the committee deems it reasonable to continue the project, the team will perform a second and subsequent surgeries.

    Okano commented at a press conference, "It has taken us 15 years since the establishment of human iPS cells to reach this point. I feel ashamed (that it took so long)."

    (Japanese original by Suzuko Araki, Science & Environment News Department)

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