Progress toward stem-cell therapies has been frustratingly slow, delayed by research challenges, ethical and legal barriers and corporate jitters. Now, stem-cell pioneer Shinya Yamanaka of Kyoto University in Japan plans to jump-start the field by building up a bank of stem cells for therapeutic use. The bank would store dozens of lines of induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells, putting Japan in an unfamiliar position: at the forefront of efforts to introduce a pioneering biomedical technology.
A long-held dream of Yamanaka’s, the iPS Cell Stock project received a boost last month, when a Japanese health-ministry committee decided to allow the creation of cell lines from the thousands of samples of fetal umbilical-cord blood held around the country. Yamanaka’s plan to store the cells for use in medicine is “a bold move”, says George Daley, a stem-cell biologist at Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts. But some researchers question whether iPS cells are ready for the clinic.
Yamanaka was the first researcher to show, in 2006, that mature mouse skin cells could be prodded into reverting to stem cells1 capable of forming all bodily tissues. The experiment, which he repeated2 with human cells in 2007, could bypass ethical issues associated with stem cells derived from embryos, and the cells could be tailor-made to match each patient, thereby avoiding rejection by the immune system.