Dinesh Varma

CHENNAI: The Institute for Frontier Medical Sciences at Japan’s Kyoto University is tying up with Chennai-based Nichi-In Centre for Regenerative Medicine (NCRM) for research on induced Pluripotent stem cells – the genetic material that is being seen as an alternative to the controversial work on embryonic stem cells.

By harvesting skin fibroblast from the adult, iPS cells are injected with a set of four genes and cultured in high-end laboratories to generate multiple cell lines.

“The iPS cells equip the scientific community pressing for cell-based treatment protocols with a substitute for working with embryonic stem cells, where the loss of the embryo has raised serious ethical concerns worldwide,” Samuel Abraham, NCRM director told The Hindu.

Key benefit

“The key benefit is that cell proliferation is expandable several-fold, whereas available harvesting techniques involving the patient’s own bone marrow maintain integrity only up to three to five passages or generations,” Dr. Abraham said. Yet another important advantage is that the iPS cells can also be used for developing drugs that can be used on other patients.

The collaborative research is to be led by Tomoki Aoyama, a key member of the team of stem cell scientists that developed induced Pluripotent Stem (iPS) cells, which can morph into any cell.

Dr. Aoyama was in Chennai recently to inspect laboratory facilities at the NCRM. An important aspect of the MoU will be the training of science graduates in advanced cell culture techniques.

Training programme

The first batch of students is likely to be sent to Japan by April, 2009. A focused training programme could address the dearth of biotech, life sciences and medicine graduate who are qualified to do cell culture.

Kyoto University, Japan’s second oldest premier institution, also plans to set up a centre for Regenerative Medicine (NiSCELL) in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in November, in technical collaboration with the NCRM.

It has also entered into an MoU for starting a PhD programme in stem cell research with Bharatidasan University. Dr. Abraham expects these developments to make Chennai, the stem cell research hub of Asia.

He pointed out that the NCRM already shares academic, research and technological collaborations with University of Toronto where stem cells were first discovered apart from a host of other centres of excellence in and outside India.

However, regenerative therapy with iPS cells could still carry some limitations with biological repair into the clinical setting as in case of patients requiring total spine replacement.

“We believe… and this has been well established across the world…that a severed spine will not regenerate under any controlled condition,” said MIOT Hospitals managing director P.V.A. Mohandas.

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