Japan approves landmark stem cell trials

Japan’s government has given its approval to the world’s first clinical trials using stem cells harvested from a patient’s own body.

Health Minister Norihisa Tamura signed off on Friday on a proposal by two research institutes that will allow them to begin tests aimed at treating age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a common medical condition that causes blindness in older people, using “induced Pluripotent Stem (iPS) cells”…

The tests will be jointly conducted by the Riken Center for Developmental Biology and the Institute of Biomedical Research and Innovation (IBRI) Hospital in Japan.

Riken will harvest stem cells, using skin cells taken from patients, a spokesman said…The trial treatment will attempt to create retinal cells that can be transplanted into the eyes of six patients suffering from AMD, replacing the damaged part of the eye…

Groundbreaking work done in 2006 by Shinya Yamanaka at Kyoto University, a Nobel Laureate in medicine last year, succeeded in generating stem cells from adult skin tissue.

Like embryonic stem cells, iPS cells are also capable of developing into any cell in the body, but crucially their source material is readily available.

The question of how much freedom scientists should be allowed to carry out research on embryonic stem cells is considered one of the great ethical issues of our time.

The research is controversial because it requires the destruction of the embryo, a process that religious conservatives, among others, oppose.

This is not a difficult or controversial question among scientists or most medical professionals. Focusing on efforts to provide the greatest good for the greatest number is sufficient. The rest of the crap arguments follow their own convoluted path through the byways of brains accustomed to considering the number of angels that fit on a pinhead roughly equivalent to or greater than, say, aiding starving children or preventing the spread of dangerous disease.

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