Scientists make a new type of stem cell, using a little acid

Posted: January 29, 2014 at 10:42 pm

Haruko Obokata / Nature

Japanese researchers have created a new type of stem cell just by pressuring normal cells in the body. This image shows a mouse embryo created using these cells, which are genetically engineered to glow green.

Scientists have made a whole new type of stem cell using little more than a little acid, and they say it may represent a way to skip all the complex and controversial steps that it now takes to make cells to regenerate tissues and organs.

The team in Japan includes some of the foremost experts in making what are called pluripotent stem cells master cells that have the power to morph into any type of cells, from blood to bone to muscle. These master cells look and act like an embryo right after conception and, like a days-old embryo, have the power to generate new tissue of any type.

Making these powerful cells usually requires the use of embryos something many disapprove of or tricky mixtures of genes to turn back the clock.

While theres not an immediate use for the discovery, it could add to the arsenal of tools that scientists can use in trying to find ways to repair the human body, the team reports in this weeks issue of the journal Nature.

It is also exciting to think about the new possibilities this finding offers, not only in areas like regenerative medicine but also perhaps in the study of senescence and cancer as well, Haruko Obokata of the RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology in Kobe, Japan, told reporters in a conference call.

Obokatas team worked with mice, and found they could get ordinary cells from baby mice to turn into pluripotent stem cells by bathing them in a slightly acidic solution. They call them stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency, or STAP, cells.

Other stem cells experts praised the work. These breakthroughs are so impressive and potentially powerful truly another dramatic game-changer, said Dr. Gerald Schatten, a stem cell and genetic engineering expert at the University of Pittsburgh.

If reproducible in humans, this will be a paradigm changer," said Dr. Robert Lanza of Massachusetts-based Advanced Cell Technology, a company developing stem cell-based treatments.

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Scientists make a new type of stem cell, using a little acid

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