Tue, Apr 14, 2015 - Page 3 News List

Hospital implants iSPC-generated cells into pigs

MACULAR DEGENERATION:The disease is the main cause of blindness for older people in many nations and current treatments do not work well, a researcher said

By Stacy Hsu  /  Staff reporter

The Taipei Veterans General Hospital yesterday announced it had successfully implanted a sheet of retinal cells created from induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSC) into pigs.

It is the latest development in joint research conducted by the hospital and National Yang-Ming University that aims to help put an end to poor vision caused by age-related macular degeneration (AMD), an incurable eye disease that is is expected to affect 200 million people worldwide by 2020.

“AMD is a leading cause of blindness in middle-aged and elderly people in Japan, the US and European countries,” hospital iPSC Center director Chiou Shih-hwa (邱士華) told a news conference in Taipei yesterday. “An estimated 200,000 to 300,000 Taiwanese are affected by the disease, which puts them at significant risk not only of impaired vision, but also accidental falls.”

Since 2005, the most common treatment for AMD has been the regular injection of angiogenesis inhibitors, which work to impede the excessive growth of new blood vessels behind the retina that could otherwise leak blood and fluid beneath the macula, Chiou said.

The macula is a structure in the center of the retina that is important for high-acuity vision.

However, the treatment does not work well on some patients with advanced stages of AMD, and the injections also sometimes leads to complications — such as infection and retinal detachment — Chiou said the need for a more advanced treatment has become increasingly pressing.

The joint research team has discovered a way to generate iPSCs — which, like embryonic stem cells, can be guided into becoming any type of cell — from human blood before turning them into monolayer retinal pigment epithelium, the pigmented layer of the retina, and inserting it under the retina, Chiou said.

The entire process takes about six months, Chiou added.

“Our research team has conducted the procedure on four healthy pigs, and the implants have combined with their original retinas perfectly and do not affect their functions, confirming the safety of the procedure,” Chiou said, adding that animals are to be monitored for two years.

Chiou said the team’s next steps would be to test the procedure’s efficacy in tackling vision loss and to apply for human clinical trials this year.

“We also do not rule out cooperation with the Japanese team that was the first to transplant iPSCs into a human last year,” he said.

In September last year, the Japanese team implanted iPSCs derived from the skin of an AMD patient in her 70s into her eye.

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