According to two papers published Wednesday by the journal Nature, stem cells washed in acid have begun to yield surprising new results. Dr. Charles Vacanti of Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, along with his Japanese research team, claim that exposing cells to a more stressful environment than they are used to allows cells to reprogram themselves as opposed to having to manipulate the nucleus of the cell manually, as is the current practice. Dr. Vacanti and his team simply washed the cells in acid for a half hour, a procedure which is not only quicker but much less expensive than the current methods used, and was able to produce the desired result.
Dr. Vacanti’s findings are based on the use of spleen cells from a newborn mouse. With this procedure, the spleen cells were able to be changed to stem cells. It is a far less invasive procedure than is currently used. The manipulation of a cell nucleus can not only be tedious, but leaves much room for error. The major difference is that with the acid wash procedure, the cell is able to reprogram on its own, whereas the current procedure tries to force reprogramming. This is significant in the aspect that if it works in humans, a patient’s own tissue may be used for regeneration. This will significantly reduce the number of transplant rejections.
Research of stem cells has been known to produce ethical and religious objections. Prior to 2006, destroyed embryos had been used in research. With the discovery that embryonic-like cells can be produced, the hope is for far less ethical objections. This particular finding was so significant that it was recognized and awarded a share of the Nobel Prize in 2012.
On a practical level, stem cell research can be used for many things. It is widely known that stem cells have been used to help diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, and heart disease, not to mention tissue regeneration of lost or injured limbs. It is also known that research is being done to advance the potential of human cloning. Dr. Vacanti does admit that if the procedure works in humans, it could catapult cloning of humans to the next level. Despite that admission, he claims to have no interest in that avenue of research.
In 1995, Dr. Vacanti introduced his work on the “earmouse”. His work on tissue engineering helped to grow a human ear on the back of a mouse. Though the “earmouse” research was significant, Dr. Vacanti continued his research in hopes of finding a more desirable type of tissue to use. With his recent discovery, cells were shown to be highly versatile in tissue production. Exposing different types of cells, such as muscle and fat tissues from a newborn mouse, to multiple stressful situations, including the acid wash, seemed to yield the same results.
Although his experiment has only been officially reported in mice, Dr. Vacanti stated last weekend that his lab produced what appears to be a human type of cell using the acid wash procedure. Scientists believe it is truly amazing to think this out-of-the box procedure of washing stem cells in acid for a half hour can yield such surprising and significant new results. If this procedure is successful in humans, stem cell research would become easier, less expensive and far more effective.
By Shannon Malone