Researchers were able to grow sheets of retinal tissue from induced pluripotent stem cells, and have now implanted them for the first time in a patient.

A Japanese woman in her 70s is the world’s first recipient of cells derived from induced pluripotent stem cells, a technology that has created great expectations since it could offer the same advantages as embryo-derived cells but without some of the controversial aspects and safety concerns.

In a two-hour procedure starting at 14:20 local time today, a team of three eye specialists lead by Yasuo Kurimoto of the Kobe City Medical Center General Hospital, transplanted a 1.3 by 3.0 millimetre sheet of retinal pigment epithelium cells into an eye of the Hyogo prefecture resident, who suffers from age-related macular degeneration.

The procedure took place at the Institute of Biomedical Research and Innovation Hospital, next to the RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology (CDB) where ophthalmologist Masayo Takahashi had developed and tested the epithelium sheets. She derived them from the patient’s skin cells, after producing induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells and then getting them to differentiate into retinal cells.

Masayo Takahashi