Meet Retina Institute of Japan: translating iPS cells

Retina Institute of Japan, IPS cells.
Retina Institute of Japan is focused on IPS cells.

If you are wondering, “How will iPS cells get to help patients?” part of the answer is perhaps the big player and Japanese Institution, Riken and its arm Retina Institute of Japan.

The stem cell field is still abuzz about induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells 7 years after their discovery.

This amazing embryonic stem cell-like cells can be made with no embryo and have the potential for truly patient specific therapies as well as dish-in-a-dish modeling and drug discovery.


iPS cells are being commercialized and at the forefront far seems to be the Retina Institute of Japan (RIJ), which appears to be just one (but a leading) commercial arm of Riken’s efforts to translate iPS cells to the bedside and generate income. The image above is from the RIJ homepage and appears to be a human iPS cell colony. Their goal is to use iPS cell-produced retinal pigmented epithelial cells (RPE) to treat macular degeneration.

Still most stem cell researchers do not know about RIJ.

I looked them up and started with their mission statement, getting a translation from my friend Noriko. I think the mission statement is very cool:

On 2/24/2011, we established a company Retinal Japan Institute, with the goal of next generation medicine and drug and instrument development.

” Delivering happiness to the people in the world by bringing iPS cells into clinic” – this is a huge responsibility.
However, we are not afraid of this huge responsibility.
The road to the goal will be full of difficulties.
No footprints, maps, nor signs
There is no fast track to achieve this goal, and it may take 10 or 20 years.
However, no one can stop us starting the first step toward the goal today.
No one can stop us assembling a team and make efforts toward the goal.
We will start with a small dot, the dots will form a line, then a line will form a large road.
This large road will be filled with joy of patients who benefit from the iPS treatments.
You do not need to hesitate.
Let’s start.
One reason that I like this motto so much is that it is passionate, but also realistic and extolls patience.
I am hopeful, despite earlier concerns that I have expressed, that RIJ will indeed take the time it needs to do the thorough animal safety testing studies that are crucial before making the big jump into studies in humans.
One issue is of course that it has competition. For example, Advanced Cell Technology (ACT; ACTC) has an extremely similar product made from embryonic stem cells that is already well into combined phase I/II FDA-approved clinical trials. However, in the end patient safety has to come first or everybody loses in my opinion.

6 thoughts on “Meet Retina Institute of Japan: translating iPS cells”

  1. Mohammed Alqassim

    Actually I’m embarrassing about this technology I would be happy to know if I can participate in this project of treating the retina with iPS technology’

    Waiting to here from you

  2. just a small comment, RIKEN is not a private company but most likely the Japanese equivalent of NIH.

  3. Calling RIKEN a “company” is like calling the NIH a company. All of this research was driven by academia and is only now beginning to emerge in a commercial setting. This is because you can obviously only go so far with academic questions and mouse models. This should be clarified.

    1. You have a good point. I have changed “company” to Institution. I would also note that I believe that commercialization is necessary to get therapies to patients. Wikipedia indicates that Riken is “almost entirely funded by the Japanese Government” so the comparison to NIH is perhaps indeed apt: .

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