JAPANESE

Next Generation Research Incubator

Promotion of Regenerative Medicine and Disease Research on Tissue Stem Cells, Organ Regeneration, and Disease-Specific iPS Cells

New cell therapies, drugs and disease insights should flow from a coordinated approach to stem cell research

Stem cells have the remarkable capacity to both self-renew and give rise to many types of more specialized cells in the body, which explains their great therapeutic potential in regenerative medicine. But that is not the only reason stem cells have become such a hotbed of scientific inquiry — these cellular transformers are also an invaluable research tool for probing the disease mechanisms that underpin cancer, aging and a host of other health problems.

At the Integrated Research Center on Regenerative Systems and Diseases, Chiba University scientists are advancing both these avenues of stem cell research. Some researchers are focused on developing new kinds of therapies based on stem cells, while others are gaining important insights into disease biology. However, they all share the common goal of improving the lives of patients using stem cells as their tool.

The center, which opened in 2016, is divided into three main research groups. The first is dedicated to using stem cells found in the blood and brain to better understand disease and normal development; the second focuses on reprogramming tissue biopsies taken from patients to make disease-specific stem cells for drug screening; and the third is developing stem cell therapies for treating diabetes, heart disease and other disorders.

Center director, Atsushi Iwama, says their work covers a wide spectrum, from basic to clinical research. Yet despite different researchers adopting different approaches, they all work in a collaborative manner, holding regular group meetings and retreats where new data are discussed and new alliances forged.

Collaborative partnerships around the world

The Integrated Research Center is also looking further afield to create a cross-disciplinary research network that spans the globe. It has already formed partnerships with other leading stem cell research groups in Japan, Singapore and the United States, and it hopes to build more international connections in the future.

One of those partnerships is with Kyoto University’s Center for iPS Cell Research and Application, where Koji Eto has worked for years developing a protocol for making platelets from reprogrammed stem cells. Last year, Chiba University recruited Eto to join its new center. And while Eto will maintain a lab in Kyoto, where he plans to run the first human trial of platelets derived from stem cells, he hopes to expand the study to include patients needing transfusions at Chiba University Hospital.

Other notable members of the Integrated Research Center include Koutaro Yokote, a leading expert on a form of progeria known as Werner syndrome, and Chiaki Nakaseko, a world leader on a rare plasma cell disorder called POEMS syndrome. Yokote is making stem cells from patients with Werner syndrome to better understand the disease and find new drugs, while Nakaseko is focused on developing new kinds of transplantation therapies from stem cells derived from bone marrow.

These and many other world-renowned investigators make the new Chiba center an ideal place to work and train the next generation of scientists. “We hope to recruit many young people interested in stem cell research and clinical translation,” Iwama says.