A recent article published in Nature discussed some specific aspects regarding the possible clinical use of iPS cells. As we know, iPS cells are reprogrammed adult cells from which cells of virtually all types of tissues can be derived, which means that they are cells with potential clinical applications. Moreover, the fact that they are obtained from adult cells circumvents any potential ethical difficulties, unlike the use of embryonic stem cells , from which cells of all types of tissues can also be derived, but which require the destruction of human embryos to obtain them. The ethics of their use is therefore very controversial.
As the aforementioned article in Nature mentions, a Japanese team, led by Masayo Takahashi, developed the first clinical trial to generate retinal cells from iPS cells to treat age-related macular degeneration. Two patients were entered into the study, but genetic abnormalities were found in the second during the cell reprogramming. Since these could lead to the development of cancer cells, the clinical trial was halted.
On 28 March 0f 2017, Dr Takahashi and her colleague Yasuo Kurimoto, from Kobe City Medical Center General Hospital, published a modification of their initial technique that marked a fundamental shift in the methodology. The procedure essentially consists of obtaining iPS cells from anonymous donors, which means that iPS cells can be much more readily available for clinical application. This in turn facilitates the costs of their use, because when iPS cells are derived from the patient himself – even though this has advantages as regards reducing potential immune rejection caused by their implantation – it makes the procedure for procuring them slow and costly. If these cells can be obtained from anonymous donors (previously selected to ensure a good immune response), however, and stored in a cell bank, the costs would be reduced significantly, and their potential for clinical use would increase.
There is no doubt that this news, regardless of its bioethical interest, would extend the clinical use of iPS cells, because as we have already mentioned, the cells thereby obtained raise no ethical concerns for use.