Providing solutions for iPS cell-based drug discovery


The use of iPS cells is expected to drive progress not only in regenerative medicine but also drug discovery research. Capitalizing on this opportunity, Nikon provides solutions that are beneficial for iPS cell-based drug discovery research into treatments for neurological disorders.

Expectations growing for new drug development using iPS cells

Despite ongoing advancements in medical science, there are still many illnesses for which medications do not exist or available drugs are often ineffective. For example, no cure has been found for Parkinson’s disease or Alzheimer’s disease, and the efficacy of treatments for these neurological disorders are regarded as unsatisfactory among physicians, while existing medications contribute relatively little to treatments. For a long time, many patients suffering from these diseases - along with their families - have been hoping for more effective drugs to become available.

0%/50%/100%/Contribution of drug treatment/Contribution of drug treatment: Low Treatment satisfaction lever: Low/ Treatment satisfaction level

Against that backdrop, induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells are now being used for the development of new medications. iPS cells can be generated from adult cells in a patient’s body and be induced to differentiate into the cells of an area of the body that researchers want to treat, enabling cells with the same disease state to be reproduced. By administering compounds of drug candidates to those reproduced cells, researchers can study and verify the efficacy and safety of the candidate drugs.

Replicating and assessing a patient’s condition in this way has not been possible until now. Historically, vast amounts of time were needed for drug discovery because studies frequently came to a halt when risks to human health became apparent after candidate drugs were tested on people at the clinical trial stage. In contrast, iPS drug discovery allows many experiments on the cells of patients to be performed without having an impact on their bodies. Thanks to this major advance, studies can now proceed far more efficiently, and new drug development is expected to make more rapid progress.

Aspiring to help develop new drugs for more effective treatment of neurological disorders

With its long pedigree of manufacturing microscopes since the company’s founding, Nikon has developed many advanced technologies and has built strong ties with researchers. Drawing on these technologies and partnerships, Nikon began developing solutions for treating neurological disorders using iPS cells while providing R&D support for pharmaceutical companies and other organizations.

Neurological disorders are often caused by abnormalities in the nerves of the brain, and can seriously affect the quality of life of patients. Patients suffering from these disorders often have trouble thinking and remembering, and may also experience physical impairments because commands from the brain are not reliably transmitted to the body. Family members taking care of patients also experience a heavy burden. For these reasons, Nikon decided to support research and development of new drugs for treating neurological disorders.

Solutions for facilitating efficient and precise research experiments

Research carried out by pharmaceutical companies and other organizations involves differentiating iPS cells derived from patients’ bodies into nerve cells and culturing them, administering drug candidates and observing the effects, then verifying the efficacy and safety of the treatments. Nikon helps make the research process more efficient by offering a set of technologies at the culturing, observation and image analysis stages as solutions for facilitating drug discovery. Nikon also provides comprehensive consultations on these technologies to help researchers more precisely assess how candidate drugs affect the targeted nerve cells.

Consulting: Culturing / Image analysis / Observation

Culturing systems

As part of its joint research with Harvard University in the United States, Nikon developed advanced cell culturing technology for the creation of optimal conditions for culturing nerve cells. Researchers at Harvard University have succeeded in establishing culture systems appropriate for various nerve cells using iPS cells, and through the join research, managed to replicate various diseases produced with the help and cooperation of a large number of patients.

Observation systems

Nikon’s powerful microscopy technologies make it possible to observe nerve cells at the micrometer level. Equipped with these technologies, Nikon’s observation systems can capture images that enable researchers to distinguish the movements and changes of individual nerve cells that have been placed in partitioned cases called wells, and allow them to observe live cell culturing in real time.

The "BioStation CT" Cell Culture Observation System facilitates imaging of cells at the microscopic level without removing them from the incubator.

Image analysis systems

Nikon has developed image analysis systems that allow precise assessments of drug candidate effects. Using these systems, researchers can analyze images of individual nerve cells, including the number of neurites, their size and degree of movement to determine whether nerve cells are healthy due to the addition of a candidate drug, or have died naturally or as a result of a drug.

Analysis of motor neuron images. Recognition and display of cell bodies and neurites

Consulting service

Nikon offers a comprehensive consulting service, through which researchers and engineers involved in drug development learn how to optimally use experimental equipment and systems so they can get the most from Nikon’s leading-edge technologies and ensure accurate assessments of drug candidates.

OutlookBringing higher quality of life to countless people

Nikon developed its drug discovery solutions through joint research with university professors and other researchers. In the future, the company intends to expand its business activities in new domains like healthcare and medical treatment by leveraging its unique core technologies while proactively adopting technologies from outside the Nikon Group.

Through such solutions, Nikon plays a positive role in promoting cutting-edge research into iPS cell-based drug discovery and development. Looking ahead, Nikon plans to broaden the applications of its solutions to help discover drugs for treating a range of other diseases. The Nikon Group is committed to contributing to the development of advanced medical treatments that will improve the health and wellbeing of people around the world.

Related SDGs

  • 3 Good Health and Well-Being

SDGs: Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, the international community adopted a set of targets for sustainable development, to be achieved by 2030. The 17 global goals address issues such as poverty, hunger, education and climate change.