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Nobel-Prize-Winning Stem-Cell Researcher Delivers Keynote at FFB-Funded Conference in Kyoto

Shinya Yamanaka, M.D., Ph.D.It was only 10 years ago that Shinya Yamanaka, M.D., Ph.D., discovered how to convert a person’s skin cells into stem cells by tweaking just four genes. The historical breakthrough landed Dr. Yamanaka the 2012 Nobel Prize in Physiology-Medicine, because it meant that patients could be their own stem-cell donors. Known as induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSC), they are now being used to develop powerful therapies and drug-screening tools including those for the retina.

To the delight of nearly 300 retinal researchers from around the world attending the FFB-funded RD2016 meeting, September 19-24 in Kyoto, Japan, Dr. Yamanka discussed his early clinical trial for iPSC-derived retinal pigment epithelial (RPE) cells for a 78-year-old woman with advanced wet age-related macular degeneration (AMD). The study met its main goal – safety – and he and his collaborator, Masayo Takahashi, M.D., Ph.D., are planning to treat additional patients in the near future.

Therapy developers are excited about using iPSC, because: 1) They can be coaxed to become almost any cell type in the body, 2) They can be matched with the recipient’s immune system profile to minimize chances of rejection, and 3) They reduce the need to derive stem cells from blastocysts (often referred to as embryonic stem cells).

Dr. Yamanaka now heads one of the world’s largest and most innovative iPSC research centers based at Kyoto University. He and more than 500 investigators are working to use the highly promising technology to develop therapies including those for retinal diseases.

FFB-funded investigator David Gamm, M.D., Ph.D., University Wisconsin-Madison, in collaboration with stem-cell pioneer James Thomson, M.D., Ph.D., are also using iPSC to develop transplantation therapies for a variety of inherited retinal conditions, including those that replace lost photoreceptors, the cells that make vision possible, and RPE, which are a critical support system for photoreceptors. Dr. Gamm is working on a patch comprised of both photoreceptors and RPE to potentially restore vision to people with advanced retinal conditions.

“It was a major thrill to have a Nobel-prize-winning scientist speak to our community,” says Stephen Rose, Ph.D., FFB’s chief research officer. “Yamanaka is to stem cells like LeBron James is to basketball. He’s been a real game-changer, and most exciting, there is much more to come from him and his team in Kyoto, and other investigators leveraging his work.”

2 Responses to 'Nobel-Prize-Winning Stem-Cell Researcher Delivers Keynote at FFB-Funded Conference in Kyoto'

  1. My name is Christine O’Bryan, I have 3 different deserves in my eyes, not to mention vision is 20/400 in both eyes.I saw a Dr Heck in lively some time ago at THE KELLOGG EYE CLINIC IN ANNARBOR,MI SAID HE COULD HELP ME EVENTUALY. HE ALSO TOOK BLOOD FROM ME PLEASE TELL ME THERE IS HELP FOR ME NOW. My vision is getting worse. Please call me 9894009160

    • EyeOnTheCure says:

      Dear Christine, You should consider genetic testing to try and identify the mutant gene responsible for causing your color blindness and retinal disease. If the gene is identified, medical databases such as PubMed ( can be searched to identify any research that is being conducted. Also, with a molecular diagnosis, you may qualify for one of the gene therapy trials that are currently taking place. For information on genetic testing, please see the following web link to download a PDF document:

      Whether your disease gene is identified or not, you should still consider participating in FFB’s “My Retina Tracker”, a free registry that monitors clinical trials that are recruiting for various retinal diseases. For more information on “My Retina Tracker” please see the following web link:

      You may also find it helpful to periodically check the website: http://WWW.CLINICALTRIALS.GOV which is maintained by the National Institutes of Health and contains a searchable list of clinical trials for most known diseases. Each clinical trial listing will provide you with information on what the study is about, the requirements for participating and contact information. Thank you for your support that is helping to accelerate the development of new safe and effective treatments for inherited retinal disease.

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