Unfortunately we’ve all seen the news recently of what can go wrong when unregulated stem cell clinics perform non-FDA approved stem cell injections on people. Thankfully, in the same issue of The New England Journal of Medicine, we learned that a Japanese Man is the first recipient of donated iPS cells. Japanese doctors Masayo Takahashi and Yasuo Kurimoto describe a groundbreaking transplant they recently performed in which they successfully transplanted retinal cells made from donated pluripotent stem cells (iPS) to a man with age-related macular degeneration.
In 2014, Takahashi and Kurimoto performed a similar transplant for a woman with the same condition, but with one important distinction: she received iPS from her own body (autologous), whereas the man who received the recent transplant received iPS cells from a donor (allogenic). Why is this distinction important?
Autologous vs. Allogenic
While successful, the 2014 procedure (where the patient’s own cells were used) included a risk of a particular sort of complication. That is because the autologous cells contained the same genetic flaws that lead to the macular degeneration in the first place. In the recent allogenic transplant, that risk is mitigated, as they were able to select optimal cells from a donor that did not have that particular genetic issue.
Therapy for All
March’s milestone transplant is also a beacon of hope in terms of the affordability of stem cell therapy. It has been legitimate concern that with the exorbitant costs associated with autologous transplants or the selection of a donor, iPS stem cell therapy could potentially end up being a luxury of only the wealthiest people. However, this success indicates that a fairer marketplace is less of a pipe dream than some feared. With the use of publicly pre-banked allogenic iPS cells, potential therapy would be immediate, as apposed to the months of waiting that would occur in the previous example. This is important when addressing conditions like spinal cord injury, where immediate stem cell therapy is vastly more effective than postponed therapy.
If the recent transplant is ultimately successful, it will likely be a big boost to the efforts of Dr. Shinya Yamanaka, a Nobel prize-winning scientist from Kyoto University who is establishing an iPS public bank. An iPS public bank, with the ability to immediately provide patients with ready-made cells that are especially selected for the patient’s biological signatures. This would allow a much larger percentage of the population access to affordable iPS cell therapies, and could potentially revolutionize the medical industry.