Photo/IllutrationThe Asahi Shimbun

  • Photo/Illustraion

SUITA, Osaka Prefecture--In a world's first, a team of researchers here transplanted cornea cells created from human iPS cells into a patient whose visual acuity has been improved.

The transplant was conducted in July by a team led by Kohji Nishida, a professor of ophthalmology at Osaka University.

The team announced the achievement on Aug. 29 at a news conference at the university's campus in Suita, Osaka Prefecture.

The patient, a woman in her 40s, has made good progress since the operation and was released from the hospital on Aug. 23.

“It’s been just a month, but right now we see the operation as a success,” Nishida said.

The transplant is intended for patients with corneal epithelial stem cell impoverishment syndrome.

The cause of the syndrome is a loss of stem cells that produce a new cornea that can cover the surface of a pupil caused by injury or other reasons. The syndrome leads to poor eyesight and sometimes blindness.

The team transformed iPS cells from a third party into cornea cells. They then turned them into a sheet 0.03 to 0.05 millimeters thick and transplanted them onto the patient’s left eye.

If all goes well, the transplanted cells will enable a lasting production of cornea cells, maintain corneal transparency and help the patient regain lost vision.

“After the operation, her clouded cornea became transparent and her vision has improved considerably. We'll continue to monitor her condition to see if it stays that way," Nishida said.

The team said it has not observed an abnormal increase in the transplanted cornea cells, and the patient has regained vision to the extent that she can go about her daily life.

Following the success, the team expects to perform a second transplant by the end of the year.

Corneas of dead people are currently transplanted into patients with the particular syndrome, but the organs are chronically in short supply.

According to the health ministry, organs from 720 people who were certified brain dead or in cardiac arrest were provided to patients with corneal diseases and 1,155 transplantation surgeries were performed in fiscal 2018.

As of the end of March this year, 1,613 people were on a waiting list for a cornea transplant.

In the team’s estimate, several hundred people in the country each year will become subjects for the cornea transplants using iPS cells.

The operation was the third successful transplant using iPS cells, following the 2014 transplantation of retina cells by the government-affiliated Riken institute and Kyoto University researchers transplanting nerve cells into the brain of a Parkinson’s disease patient in 2018.