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iPS Cells: the Driving Force of Regenerative Medicine Research

CiRA website:World hub of the top-level iPS cell reserch



In 2007, Dr. Shinya Yamanaka of Kyoto University became the first in the world to succeed in generating human induced pluripotent stem cells, or human iPS cells. His discovery is set to revolutionize medical care around the world.

Since then, stem cell and regenerative medicine research, already areas of fierce international competition, has become almost cutthroat.

In Japan, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) has established a national framework for iPS cell research, positioning the field as a strategic research interest for the country. The amount of research funding being made available for the field is increasing annually: in 2013, the government pledged ¥110 billion (about $1.2 million) in support over the next decade. This is an extraordinary budget, certainly when compared to other fields of life science-related research, and is a reflection of the enormous potential Japan believes the field to have today, at the beginning of a new age of regenerative medicine. Minister for Science, Hakubun Shimomura, requested an additional ¥21.4 billion (about $230 milliom) from the 2012 supplementary budget, to be used for the construction of the basic framework required to advance the development of regenerative medicine using iPS cell technology. The Minister has also championed a ten year project, the Network of Excellence for Regenerative Medicine Development program, to run until 2022. An annual budget of ¥9 billion (about $100 million) has been earmarked for the program.

Developing clinical applications for iPS cell technology would not simply revitalize the regenerative medicine and drug development sectors in Japan; it also holds promise for many people suffering from diseases for which previously no treatment was available. Of course, at its position in the vanguard of world-leading medical technology, Japan would also doubtlessly be in a strong position on the international stage. The findings of iPS cell research have great potential to be of significant benefit to the entire world community, since saving and improving the lives of many would be sure to have a positive impact on the revitalization and development of many economies. As the clinical application of iPS cell technology comes closer to becoming a reality, there will likely be increased infrastructure needs, such as drugs and treatment-related devices and equipment. The potential value of this not-too-distant market is thought to be as high as ¥100 trillion (about $1.1 trillion).

Japan already boasts an impressive portfolio of world-leading research results from a number of research institutes working in the field, not least the Center for iPS Cell Research and Application at Kyoto University. However, if the field is to begin to produce output that will help to improve the lives of the global population, it needs more money and more researchers. Regenerative medicine research in Japan is leading the rest of the international research community, but it requires the support of the entire nation if it is to continue to remain in ascendency.


The construction of the basic framework required to advance the development of regenerative medicine using iPS cell technology being undertaken by MEXT involves the establishment of facilities, at universities and research centers all over the country, with the necessary capacity to conduct iPS cell research. At the center of the framework is the Center for iPS Cell Research and Application at Kyoto University, with facilities such as the following either to be established or already in place:

・Facilities at Kyoto University will be expanded and improved as appropriate for the central holder of Japan’s iPS cell stock, in other words the cells used for regenerative medicine and research. The Cell Processing Center (CPC), a facility dedicated to developing the commercial applicability of iPS cells, will be established. Kyoto University counts Dr. Yamanaka as one of its faculty members and as such will form the core of the national research framework for regenerative medicine.


RIKEN facilities in Kobe and in Tsukuba (Ibaraki prefecture) will be provided with the necessary technology to conduct drug development research through industry-academia and joint research programs, and the technology required to handle set-aside cells from patients with intractable diseases. The first clinical research on iPS cells will begin in 2013 at RIKEN, overseen by Project Leader Masayo Takahashi at the Laboratory for Retinal Regeneration. The retinal regeneration team will also be provided with financial support to enhance research facilities.


The Network of Excellence for Regenerative Medicine Development program is designed to make maximum use of the capacity for world-leading basic research in iPS cell technology, developed through strategic research programs thus far, by constructing a nationwide network with complementary hub facilities that will enable and encourage further research. The program will include the following four projects:

1.Core iPS Cell Research Center
Intended to provide support for the construction of a research framework to facilitate the following two objectives, centering on the Center for iPS Cell Research and Application at Kyoto University as the originating institute for world-leading iPS cell research.

1) Basic and foundational research on the development of more stable, more effective iPS cell generation techniques, with a view to future clinical application
2) Establish guidelines for iPS cell stock for regenerative medical use; development of necessary systems and frameworks; management and operation

2.Research Center for iPS Cell Commercial Viability in Specific Applications
Designed to aim for the construction of research frameworks, developed according to target disease or tissue type, which will enable the realization of regenerative medicine. The aim is to promote efficiency in research by support a framework in which research on clinical applications is progressed according to function rather than host institution.

3. Highway to the Realization of Regenerative Medicine
*In conjunction with the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare
Focused on the early realization of regenerative medical technology with commercially viable applications through advertised research funding in the following four categories:
A: Regenerative Medicine Research: Clinical Trial Stage Achievable Short-Term
B: Regenerative Medicine Research: Clinical Trial Stage Achievable Mid-Term
C: Supporting Commercial Applications of Regenerative Medicine
D: Resolving Bioethical and Related Issues

4. Intractable Disease Research using Disease-Specific iPS Cells
*In conjunction with the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare
Uses disease-specific iPS cells to uncover the mechanisms of disease onset and development as well as drug discovery research.


Links
Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) 
http://www.mext.go.jp/english/
Network of Excellence for Regenerative Medicine Development program: program evaluation, MEXT
http://www.mext.go.jp/a_menu/hyouka/kekka/1326795.htm (Japanese)

Related Articles

Stem Cell Therapy for Retinal Regeneration using iPS Cells 
RIKEN KOBE INSTITUTE : CENTER FOR DEVELOPMENTAL BIOLOGY : Masayo Takahashi, M.D.,Ph.D.
iPS Cells (Induced pluripotent stem cells)