Stem cell research advances with a study focusing on the ability to change embryos. Researchers in Japan and Harvard University have developed a way to return embryonic cells back to flexible stem cells. They are able to do it without altering DNA. The findings published Jan. 29 in Nature comes from research done with laboratory mice but can be replicated in humans.
The research team was led by Charles Vacanti, a Harvard Medical School stem cell and tissue engineering biologist. He reports that scientific researchers believe that if the information uncovered can be used on humans, it can be used on stem cells and used to treat illnesses. It may lead to increased awareness around how the body heals from injury.
Vacancti is also associated with Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. He says the study shows that any mature cell can go back to stem cell status when placed in the proper environment. This gives it the potential to become any cell that is needed by that particular tissue in the body. He has seen the process happen naturally and on its own following body injuries, and the greater the injury, the farther back the cells revert. Vacancti states,“With a significant injury, it can be manipulated to revert back to an embryonic stem cell.”
The process involved dipping skin and blood cells in acid and squeezing. A percentage of the cells survived the process becoming stem cells. The discovery lends hope that the newly generated stem cells can be turned into any cell or tissue in the body.
The ethical debate over destroying stem cells for advances in research could see an end with the new discovery. With the new findings, embryonic stem cells have the potential for being created with fewer costs and more quickly. Study co-author Yoshiki Sassi, a stem cell researcher at the RIKEN Center for Development Biology in Kobe, Japan, says “It’s amazing.” Sassi is excited to learn that external stress could have this type of effect. Stem cell research advances with the ability to change embryos while bringing more people into the fold with increased understanding.
In comments to Nature, Chris Mason, chair of Regenerative Medicine Bio processing at the University College London, expressed similar views noting, that to reprogram adult cells to an embryonic stem cell-like condition only needs a small amount of acid for less than half an hour. “This is incredible.” he said.
In addition to calling today’s discovery amazing, researchers say the age of personalized medicine has arrived if continued research on mammals and humans proves just as successful.
In referring to STAP cells Austin Smith, stem cell specialist at Cambridge University says they act as a blank slate for moving forward by providing properties that have not been worked with previously. Austin Smith, stem cell specialist at Cambridge University. Nature describes the latest procedure a pluripotent stimulus-triggered finding.
Martin Pera, head of stem cell sciences at the University of Melbourne, looks at today’s discovery through a lens of what has happened with stem cells in the past. Pera believes that under normal circumstances, that tissue which exposed to an acidic atmosphere like stomach linings would result in tumors and any number of cell types. He adds today’s discovery brings into question the behavior of cells when under stress. This breakthrough advances the ability to change embryos for use stem cell research.
By C. Imani Williams