Nakayama : Are there already many patients actually using autologous cultured cartilage?
Itahara : Yes. After undergoing clinical testing, our autologous cultured cartilage also passed safety and effectiveness screening by the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, and in July of 2012, we obtained approval for its manufacture and sale. This is currently the third year in which we’ve made it available as a regenerative medicine product, and there are now over 300 cases in which it has been used in patients, including professional athletes.
Nakayama : Japan today is an ultra-aging society, and with that I imagine demand for treatment of joint pain and other conditions will continue to increase. Can you tell us about the outlook for the procedure going forward?
Itahara : Yes, as healthy life expectancy grows, we believe—as you noted—that demand for the use of autologous cultured cartilage will expand even further. To put it simply, autologous cultured cartilage is currently only approved by the government for use with injuries resulting from external force, including traumatic cartilage injury and osteochondritis dissecans, which can cause fragments of bone and cartilage to hinder joint movement.
Still, most people think of “sore knees” as something that happens to the elderly as the cartilage gradually wears down, until eventually their knees hurt. This is what is known as osteoarthritis, and currently the autologous cultured cartilage has not been indicated for this condition.
This is because the government has determined that the pathology of such traumatic injuries differs from that of osteoarthritis of the knee. Today, research is underway into a variety of regenerative medical approaches to knee problems, and the hope is that in the future, we will be able to treat osteoarthritis of the knee as well.
Nakayama : It would be wonderful if our senior citizens could go without suffering from knee pain!
Itahara : Yes, and I think a huge number of patients are having to deal with knee pain. Roughly 70,000 people a year use artificial joints, mostly the result of osteoarthritis caused by cartilage damage due to aging. Regenerative medicine has the potential to contribute significantly to the reduction of such discomfort, and we continue to push forward with research and development aimed at finding solutions.
Nakayama : I imagine that new treatment methods must give those patients a lot of hope.
Itahara : Certainly, and the most attractive thing about autologous cultured cartilage is that it enables a patient to recover healthy functioning that was once lost, using the patients’ own cells rather than an artificial, external material.
Since regenerative medicine can provide fundamental treatment for illnesses, going forward we are focusing all of our efforts on delivering this kind of new medicine to as many people as possible, as we work to contribute to improving patient’s quality of life.
Nakayama・ : Thank you for your time today!