Stem cell research may have taken a great leap forward if a recent discovery of a method to create them using mouse cells proves viable in humans, which could mean that a patient’s own cells could be used for healing. The recent discovery has the potential to make a great impact on cancer research and organ transplants.
Stem cell research has already been used to heal the eyes, brain and heart by transforming cells into the necessary tissue. It has also been shown to regrow missing limbs in animals, but that result has not yet been tested on humans.
The new discovery, published in the Jan. 30, 2014 issue of Nature, came at the hands of Dr. Charles Vacanti, 63, chairman of the Anesthesiology Department at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and a very well-esteemed tissue engineer who also has no PhD.
The cells in question were taken from the spleen of a mouse. When deliberately exposed to adverse environments which included a low oxygen environment, trauma and an acidic environment, the cells became “pluripotent.” Which means that they had the ability to transform into almost all cells present in the human being such as muscle, blood, nervous system cells, lung, bone, and skin cells. The newly discovered cells were named STAP cells, or “Stimulus-Triggered Acquisition of Pluripotency Cells.”
The STAP cells were injected into the embryos of mice that were in early stages of development. The embryos grew into mice “chimaeras,” or embryos that contain both their original cells and the STAP cells. The new method was deemed to be even more promising when the STAP cells were able to actually grown into the mouse placenta cells. Which indicates that the cells can become different types of cells; a breakthrough in the field of stem cell research.
Stem cell research has historically focused on finding ways to transform adult cells into whichever tissue is desired. To do so, the cell’s nucleus had to be transferred or a way to control the method in which DNA becomes proteins via the addition of complex mixtures of substances.
In 2006, Japan discovered a way to create stem cells from adult cells. They then inserted new genes into the adult cells using viruses. The process resulted in “induced pluripotent stem cells,” or iPSCs.
The new discovery using mouse cells is different in that the cell DNA does not have to be changed and it may even be a faster process. Currently, a patient’s skin sample requires 10 month before it can be usable in their bodies. The financial cost for both the patient and the performer of the procedure is also extremely high. With the new discovery, the time required for a patient’s own cell to become a stem cell usable for healing would be shortened, resulting in lower costs all around.
It also demonstrates that any adult cell can become the same as an embryonic stem cell by using the STAP process. Although the first successful experiment with this new method was done using mouse blood cells, scientists are contemplating an attempt to duplicate the test with human blood cells. Before doing so, more research will be needed to determine what possible problems could occur, as well as how to prevent them. If the new method proves viable in humans, this new discovery for creating stem cells from a person’s own body in order to heal the patient, could have a significant impact on modern medicine.
By Jennifer Pfalz