Project for Adaptation of Regenerative Medicine in Spinal Cord Injury in Rugby and Research Collaboration Announced by JRFU

The Japan Rugby Football Union is proud to announce the launch of a special project and research collaboration program to grant funding for vital research into spinal cord injury in collaboration with the Keio University School of Medicine and the Sapporo Medical University. The Adaptation of Regenerative Medicine in Spinal Cord Injury in Rugby and Research Collaboration project will see ¥7.5 million donated to both research institutions to fund their innovative research into spinal cord injury and regenerative medicine.

A project team chaired by Dr. Ichiro Kono and comprising Dr. Akihiko Nakamura, Prof. Takumi Yamamoto, Dr. Takao Akama, Dr. Takuya Tajima, Dr. Masataka Sakane and Dr. Yuji Takazawa has been formed, and project funding will be managed in accordance with the Rugby World Cup 2019 Legacy Special Committee Fund Management Regulations as a legacy initiative of RWC2019 in Japan.

The program at Keio University School of Medicine in Tokyo, under the leadership of Professor Masaya Nakamura, Department of Orthopedic Surgery is investigating the application of iPS cell-based spinal cord regenerative medicine for treating spinal cord injury. At Sapporo Medical University, Professor Toshihiko Yamashita of the Department of Orthopedic Surgery is leading research and education into the optimization of regenerative therapy using bone marrow mesenchymal stem cells for spinal cord injury.

Commenting on the program, Shigetaka Mori, President of Japan Rugby Football Union said:

“The incidence of serious injury and concussion at Rugby World Cup 2019 in Japan decreased compared to the previous tournament in 2015. The Japanese medical team contributed greatly to the success of the tournament and Japan’s high level of medical care is recognized internationally. The JRFU recognizes the need to mitigate the risk of spinal cord injury in rugby and is making various efforts in this area under the banner of ‘Promoting and Ensuring Safe Rugby’. With the launch of this project, we hope to contribute to the development of effective treatments and the application of regenerative medicine in the treatment of spinal cord injuries.”

Genichi Tamatsuka, Chairman of Japan Rugby League One said:

“On behalf of Japan Rugby League One, I would like to express our gratitude for the tremendous efforts of everyone involved in this project. The JRFU’s work to eliminate serious injury and promote safe rugby is extremely important for the successful and sustainable operation of League One. The rugby community will work together to ensure an environment where rugby players can play the game with peace of mind, and we hope that this project will be a great step toward further improvement in player welfare.”

Masaya Nakamura, a professor in the Department of Orthopedic Surgery at the Keio University School of Medicine, said:

“Spinal cord injury is one of the most serious injuries an athlete can suffer, especially in contact sports like rugby. The realization of regenerative medicine for spinal cord injury using iPS cells has long been a dream of mine, and through this project, I hope to soon lay a foundation for the clinical application of cell transplantation using iPS cell-derived neural stem/progenitor cells.”

Toshihiko Yamashita, Professor of Orthopedic Surgery, Sapporo Medical University, said: 

“We began treating spinal cord injury patients with intravenous administration of an autologous bone marrow mesenchymal stem cell product in 2019 based on the conditional and time-limited approval of Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare. More than 70 spinal cord injury patients have been treated and shown relatively good functional recovery. We are very pleased to be able to contribute to the relief of patients with spinal cord injuries through the JRFU’s support and we are committed to continually developing more effective treatment methods in the future.