Stem Cells Acid Bath Prompts Burning Questions

stem cells

A recent study indicated that stressing body cells may turn them into the pluripotent stem cells that can morph into a variety of other types.  This method of generating stem cells would be easier and less expensive than the current method of making genetic changes to cells in order to produce stem cells.  Three methods of stressing cells to the point where they changed into stem cells were found to be effective and the researchers have dubbed theseSTAP cells.  STAP is an acronym for “stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency.”  However, the acid bath method used in order to create these STAP, or stem, cells has prompted the burning question from other researchers as to why they have been unable to recreate the results.

Stem cells are important because they are basically cells with an undesignated assignment.  They can do what is known as differentiation, which means that even though they are a generalized, unspecialized cell, they can not only be used in place of specialized cells, but they will become those specialized ones.  Additionally, the stem cells, after becoming that specific type of cell, will replicate themselves with the newly-acquired specialization.

These types of cells, which can become different types of cells dependent upon need, can be very useful in many types of medical treatments.  Currently, stem cells are used in bone marrow transplants.  Stem cells may also be used for other treatments such as diabetes, spinal cord injuries, osteoarthritis, and autoimmune disorders.   It appears that once a major breakthrough occurs, they may be no limit to the medical applications of these cells.

Stem cells have been in use since the early 1900s.  It wasn’t until 1958 that stem cell usage became more than simply trial and error and the failure rates began to decrease.  This happened because a French medical researcher, Jean Dausset, identified histocompatibility antigens.  These antigens determine what does, and what does not, belong in a specific human body.  Research continued and, in 1973, the first human bone marrow transplant between unrelated people was successful.  After this success, bone marrow transplants became more common and were used to treat leukemia and immunodeficiencies.  The year 1998 saw the initial discovery of embryonic stem cells.

The usage of human embryonic stem cells has been the cause of much debate since 1998.  However, in 2012, Shinya Yamanaka won the Nobel Prize for his discovery of how to convert mature cells into pluripotent cells.  Pluripotent cells are like stem cells which can develop (differentiate) into any type of cell.  The only thing a pluripotent cell can not do is transform into cells that form an embryo.  This was a major milestone for medical professionals who wanted to continue research with cells that could differentiate.   One question still remained.  The possibility of using other methods to create stem cells, such as methods from stressors like pressure or acid baths, was still a burning question in the minds of some researchers.

As it turns out, researchers have recently published papers that indicate that adult cells can be turned into stem cells by a mildly acidic bath.  These cells were bathed for only 30 minutes and the results which were published indicated that after seven days, they had transformed into what has become known as STAP cells.  Since the publication of the results in January, many scientists and researchers have attempted to recreate the findings.  Unfortunately, the attempts have been unsuccessful.   To create further issues, some of the images used in what has been purported to be different experiments seem to be duplicates of each other.  Now these research findings are under scrutiny.

It will take some more time to determine whether the original findings are valid.  Among other things, the test results from further studies need to produce the same results, results that indicate that adult cells can be turned into stem cells with these external stimuli.  While the results can now be considered inconclusive, it does not rule out the possibility that this method may be legitimate.  However, because other researchers have been unable to produce the same results, the questions remain as to the validity of the acid bath’s effectiveness in creating stem cells.

By Dee Mueller

Sources:

The Wall Street Journal
Popular Science
Nature
New Scientist
Encyclopaedia Britannica
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