Ten years after scientists in Japan reported creating embryonic stem cells from ordinary skin cells, the lead researcher says the real work begins now.
Kyoto University Professor Shinya Yamanaka and his colleagues announced their discovery on November 21st, 2007.
In what was a world first, the group successfully reverted mature human cells to their embryonic state -- with an ability to develop into all kinds of body cells.
The team achieved this by introducing 4 genes into adult skin cells. They named the resulting product iPS, or induced pluripotent stem cells.
Yamanaka co-won a Nobel Prize in 2012 for the work.
The Japanese government has supported research to apply the iPS cells to regenerative medicine. Global competition is intensifying in this field.
But Yamanaka says numerous hurdles must still be cleared before the research results can be delivered to patients in the form of iPS cell-based therapy. He says he hopes to achieve this as soon as possible while putting top priority on patient safety.
In 2014, a group led by the RIKEN lab in Kobe carried out the world's first clinical treatment of eye disease by implanting retinal tissue created from iPS cells.
In September, a group affiliated with Kyoto University announced that it used iPS cells to identify medical substances that could be effective in treating a rare disorder that causes muscle to turn into bone. The group has now begun a clinical trial.
Other universities in Japan are planning clinical research into iPS cell-based therapies for heart disease and spinal cord injuries.