RIKEN is Japan’s largest publicly funded basic research organization, established to conduct scientific investigations in the fields of physics, chemistry, medicine, engineering and the life sciences, and to disseminate the results of its research and technological developments. The main RIKEN campus is located in the city of Wako, near Tokyo, and other RIKEN institutes are located throughout Japan. The RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology (CDB) was launched in April 2000 in the city of Kobe, Japan to conduct studies into the basic mechanisms of development and regeneration, and to help provide scientific bases for regenerative medicine. The basic biology and potential applications of stem cells are focuses of research in several labs at the Center, which also recently opened a Division of Human Stem Cell Technology, which supports scientists in the CDB and throughout Japan with technology and expertise required for the study of human embryonic stem cells. CDB scientists have also played a central role in the formulation and amendment of Japanese national stem cell and SCNT policies. A second RIKEN research center, the Bioresources Center (BRC), located in Saitama, has recently been selected as the repository and distribution for the only human ES cell lines derived in Japan to date, kHES1-3, which were originally derived by Norio Nakatsuji’s lab in Kyoto University. These lines will soon be available for international distribution. RIKEN has an annual research budget of 1.4 billion yen, with 0.4 billion yen decided to stem cell research.
RIKEN stem cell strategy
In 2007, the CDB established the Division of Human Stem Cell Technology (DHSCT) to provide a full spectrum of support services to Japanese labs with an interest in using human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) and their derivatives in research. The DHSCT provides technological expertise, training and support in hESC culture, maintenance, distribution and management, meeting the needs of both experienced and first-time users in the life sciences research community. The CDB also serves as one of the hubs for the Japanese government’s research initiatives into Regenerative Medicine and induced pluripotency, and several CDB researchers serve or have served on government advisory bodies relevant to stem cell research. The CDB strives to improve our understanding of the basic biology of stem and progenitor cells, with the goal of providing a solid scientific foundation for the emerging field of regenerative medicine.
Recent research achievements
- The most important progress: A Japanese venture company that has been engaged in development of gene therapy using their own vector based on Sendai Virus (paramixo-virus, anti-strand RNA virus) has developed a method to induce safer human iPS cells that bear no alteration in the host genome. The efficiency of generating Alp+-colonies using this method is 10-30 times higher than other currently available methods and the infected virus can be depleted easily. The Japanese Government regards this method as a breakthrough solution for deriving iPS cells safely and the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology is starting to discuss the best ways to establish a system for providing services for generating safe iPS upon request and to distributing the Yamanaka factors in this vector for researchers.
- Based on this progress, JST (a funding agency) is starting to select suitable targets for use in clinical applications of iPS cells.
- A set of guidelines for the derivation of human ntES cells will be issued in June 2009.
- The Governmental Committee on human ES cell research started an intensive discussion geared toward revising the present guidelines on derivation and use of human ES cells, with an eye to relaxing the present regulations. Under the new guidelines, the ethical committee of each institution will be authorized to make the final decision on granting permission required for research projects, which would remove the requirement for additional review by governmental committee. Underlying this change is a major shift in the thinking about ES cells from a “special entity” to be treated with respect, to that of ES cells simply as a set of human embryonic cell lines.
- The first iPS symposium was held in May 2008 in Kyoto.
- A closed workshop of the Stem Cell Network Asian Pacific (SNAP) was held in February 2009 and discussed three main issues, Asian-Pacific networking for stem cell research, stem cell banking, and stem cell tourism.
- Construction of the Kyoto University Center for iPS Research and Application (Shinya Yamanaka, Director) is under way; expected date of completion is spring 2010.
Key stem cell centres/investments
RIKEN CDB (www.cdb.riken.jp/en/index.html)
Institute for Frontier Medical Sciences, Kyoto University (www.frontier.kyoto-u.ac.jp/eng/index.html)
Kumamoto University (www.kumamoto-u.ac.jp/univ-e.html)
- Keio University (www.med.keio.ac.jp/index-e.html)
- Institute of Medical Science, The University of Tokyo (www.ims.u-tokyo.ac.jp/imsut/en/lab/experimentalmedicine/)