Japan wants to be the world power in stem cells and they say they have obtained the first transplant to treat heart attacks

A recent press release from The Japan Times stated that Japan has achieved the first successful transplant of reprogrammed stem cells to treat a heart attack. In fact, the University of Osaka leads this technique.

A few months ago, the directors of the cardiology department of this school requested (and confirmed) permission to start the first clinical trials with human patients. With this step, researchers have laid the foundation stone for one of the most promising techniques in modern medicine.

The first heart stem cell transplants

Although the news has just made its way to the Japanese media, and it will not take long to make it internationally, surely the study is long overdue. Researchers have been presenting their intention for years to use reprogrammed stem cells to repair the damage caused by heart attacks. After many studies, the researchers say, they decided to launch the first clinical trials, rather than slower but safer clinical trials.

Its objective, they affirmed last Monday according to the Japanese press, is to demonstrate that its application is safe and accelerate the process of approval of treatment in the country's hospitals by the health minister. With this move, Japan would undoubtedly take the lead in regenerative medicine techniques, which is still taking its first and promising steps.

Furthermore, it is not the first time that Japan has been able to perform this type of transplant. A few years ago, clinical trials to restore retinal tissue began quite successfully. Today the treatment is feasible and is carried out, although not yet widespread, in Japan.

What is special about reprogrammed stem cells?

In other words, why is mastering this technique so important? IPS cells, from English, induced pluripotent stem cells, are cells capable of differentiating into any cell type with the necessary stimuli. All the cells of our body, roughly, they have the same genetic material. According to their location they differ in one tissue or another, to perform their function. This is irreversible. However, in the laboratory it can be "reprogrammed".

This means that they can be restored to the ability to differentiate into almost any other cell type. For example, you can take a piece of skin and modify your cells with this technique to make them pluripotent again. In the case of this kit, these cells are reprogrammed to become cardiac muscle cells.

Osaka University, Institute of Medicine

These reprogrammed cells are the ones that are transplanted to the heart. In heart attacks and other heart diseases, the heart tissue dies, losing strength or rhythm, causing a higher incidence of cardiovascular problems and potentially life-threatening in the long run. To fix this, pacemakers are usually included. With the transplantation of these cardiac cells it is expected to be able to recover all or most of the tissue.

In general, regenerative therapy is one of the great hopes of modern medicine, since it allows tissues to be recovered, something that other treatments, such as pharmacological or surgery, are not capable of. In addition, it uses its own cells, which allows less rejection, mitigating adverse reactions. In general, stem cell-based, personalized and regenerative medicine has enormous potential and hence the interest of all teams. With this transplant, Japan takes the lead doing the first clinical trials. If these go well, they will be the first to have treatment for some of the world's most widespread non-communicable epidemics, which is not turkey mucus.

Images | Wikimedia

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