Scientists at Kyoto University have reported that they have created Japan's first human embryonic stem cell line (ES cell). They did so by removing and culturing cells from donated human embryos left over from fertility treatments.
The research team created an ES cell line from about 10 cells taken from a donated human embryo. Professor Norio Nakatsuji, leader of the research team, said that their first stem cells had established successfully and the plan was to make them available to other researchers in Autumn 2003. In September 2001, the Japanese government allowed human ES cell research to take place in Japan if the research project was approved by a committee of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology. Kyoto University will sell its ES cell lines at cost price to both academic and commercial researchers in Japan, providing they have been given permission by the ministry to carry out ES cell research. The ministry has not yet decided how it will handle requests for the ES cell lines from foreign researchers.
Professor Nakatsuji has said that 10 Japanese laboratories - including the Kyoto University Medical School - have already expressed interest in using the ES cell lines and that many other requests for access to them are expected by the end of this year. The research team intends to continue working to establish more ES cell lines, but progress is hampered by rigorous procedures for gaining consent to use fertility patients' stored embryos.