Cooperation in the construction of 'iPS cell stock' for medical treatment

The Japanese Red Cross has begun collaborating with the Center for the iPS Cell Research and Application, Kyoto University (CiRA) to construct 'iPS cell stock' for treatment of incurable diseases and regenerative medicines. The project, which started being implemented in Kyoto and Osaka in June, follows the agreement reached by the two institutions last year.

The role of the Red Cross is to seek the cooperation of donors with blood types that are less likely to lead to rejection following therapy using iPS cells. This programme is planned to be expanded to other blood centres all over Japan in the future.

What are iPS cells?

Induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells are produced by inducing initialization factors in somatic cells such as skin and blood cells. These cells are characterized by infinite proliferation and pluripotent differentiation into all types of body cells, including nerve cells and muscular cells. These characteristics mean that iPS cell technology can be applied to drug design through artificial recreation of symptoms, to medical treatment development, and to cell-based regenerative medicine. However, cell differentiation is a lengthy process. Thus, it is important to produce and store iPS cells in advance for medical treatment by using blood and skin from donors with blood types less likely to lead to rejection. This will enable prompt treatment to be given when needed.

How does the Japanese Red Cross contribute to this programme?

The Japanese Red Cross received a request for cooperation from Professor Shinya Yamanaka (Director of CiRA), who received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2012. Then, through the efforts of a three-way investigative commission including a state institute, an agreement on cooperation was reached last December. The construction of 'iPS cell stock' that would be useful for treatment of incurable diseases is in accordance with the mission of the Japanese Red Cross, which is 'Protect the lives, health, and dignity of individual human beings.'

The Japanese Red Cross will ask donors who visit the designated blood donation centres for permission to send them an information sheet about the research. The Red Cross will then send the sheet to those donors who have given permission and have blood types that are less likely to lead to rejection. Those persons willing to cooperate will contact CiRA to arrange to donate blood and/or skin cells. From them, iPS cells for the treatment of incurable disease and regeneration medicine will be produced.

Which blood types are less likely to cause rejection?

White blood cells, which play an important role in human immunology, have a blood type (HLA) just as red blood cells do (ABO, Rh). When someone inherits exactly the same combination of HLA genes from each parent (i.e., they get two copies of the same haplotype), they are said to be "HLA homozygous."

For instance, a donor who has HLA type [ABC] and [ABC] inherited the same HLA pattern from both parents. Cells with this HLA type is less likely to cause rejection following a cell transplant even if the donor's blood is transplanted to someone having an HLA type of [ABC]/[DEF] or [ABC]/[GHI]. HLA homozygous is found only at frequency of 2-4 per cent in Japanese population. The Japanese Red Cross has more than 300,000registered blood donors whose HLA type is tested. Therefore, the Japanese Red Cross will seek the cooperation of HLA homozygous donors.