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Cutting-edge regenerative medicine has become an essential technology in recent years to address unmet medical needs in the repair or replacement of damaged tissues or organs for the treatment of intractable diseases including heart, liver, cartilage, etc. Recent advancement in stem cell technology has further shed light on the potential of regenerative therapy in curing a greater variety of difficult intractable diseases. Nevertheless, currently existing methods for regenerative therapy, which relies primarily on direct injection of isolated cells, is still problematic and far from being effective, simply due to the large amount of cell loss in the damaged organs that must be fully replaced, as well as to the lack of an effective, safe, yet controllable cell delivery.

Okano’s and Yamato’s research team in Tokyo Women’s Medical University have pioneered a so-called “cell-sheet technology” that can drastically improve the biological functions and implantation of in vitro cultured cells. In contrast to the conventional cell therapy such as direct injection method, this cell-sheet technology can provide an excellent maintenance of intact extracellular matrix (ECM) structures, thereby fully reserving in vivo interactions of ECM with cultured cells. Over the past several decades, their lab has engineered transplantation of epithelial cell sheets for regeneration of corneal, esophageal, cartilage, periodontal tissues, etc., with proven clinical success.

In our A3 Foresight Program, we try to achieve next-generation therapy for intractable diseases including the regeneration of whole heart, liver, and nerve, on the basis of cell-sheet technologies. The goal of this 3-country research collaboration is to achieve synergistic regenerative outcomes by converging the core technology of the cell sheet-based tissue engineering with the essential gradients for success including delivery strategies for proteins and genes as well as scaffold/cell construct systems for localized regenerative therapy.

Yang’s group at Tianjin Medical University in China and also at the University of Michigan has established a sound track record on research related to the development of innovative delivery systems for protein- or gene-type macromolecules; whereas Lee’s group at Ewha Womans University in Korea has built a strong reputation in research related to biomaterial-based scaffolds for gene and stem cell delivery for localized tissue regeneration. Based on the long-standing research collaboration among these three groups, as well as the complementary and mutually-beneficial needs of their specialized expertise in regenerative medicine, these three excellent research groups decided to team together to pursue the development of a new paradigm of regenerative therapies.