Scientists Hail ‘Revolutionary’ Stem Cell Breakthrough

A new discovery is predicted to make stem cell research much more cheaper, faster, and less controversial to boot.

A group of stem cell researchers is speaking of a “major scientific discovery”, with the potential to start a new age of personalised medicine. Photo: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration/Flickr

Japanese scientists are sure that stem cells can now be made quickly just by dipping blood cells into acid. They say stem cells can transform into any tissue and are already being trialled for healing the eye, heart and brain, reports BBC.

The latest results of the experiment, published in the journal Nature today, are believed to make the technology cheaper, faster and safer.

Our body can be named “a set of cells” with a specific role – nerve cells, liver cells, muscle cells – and that role is fixed. But stem cells are said to have a unique ability to transform into any other type of cell, and that’s why it appears to be a major field of research in medicine for their potential to regenerate the body.

Embryos are considered to be the main source of stem cells. Previous researches also showed that skin cells could be “genetically reprogrammed” to become stem cells (termed induced pluripotent stem cells).

The results of new study show that blood cells with acid could also launch the transformation into stem cells – this time termed STAP (stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency) cells.

Dr Haruko Obokata, from the Riken Centre for Developmental Biology in Japan, said she was “really surprised” that cells could respond to their environment in this way.

She went on, adding: “It’s exciting to think about the new possibilities these findings offer us, not only in regenerative medicine, but cancer as well.”

This scientific breakthrough was achieved in mouse blood cells, but now researcher intend to examine the results of the study in a thorough way. They hope it will help them to study human blood.

Chris Mason, professor of regenerative medicine at University College London, said if it also works in humans then “the age of personalised medicine would have finally arrived.”

He told reporters: “I thought – ‘my God that’s a game changer!’ It’s a very exciting, but surprise, finding. It looks a bit too good to be true, but the number of experts who have reviewed and checked this, I’m sure that it is.”

“If this works in people as well as it does in mice, it looks faster, cheaper and possibly safer than other cell reprogramming technologies – personalised reprogrammed cell therapies may now be viable,” the scientist concluded.

The Medical Research Council’s Prof Robin Lovell-Badge describes the study as “remarkable” and as “a major scientific discovery” by Dr Dusko Ilic, a reader in stem cell science at Kings College London.

Dr Ilic added: “The approach is indeed revolutionary.It will make a fundamental change in how scientists perceive the interplay of environment and genome.”

He also admitted: “It does not bring stem cell-based therapy closer. We will need to use the same precautions for the cells generated in this way as for the cells isolated from embryos or reprogrammed with a standard method.”

And Prof Lovell-Badge said: “It is going to be a while before the nature of these cells are understood, and whether they might prove to be useful for developing therapies, but the really intriguing thing to discover will be the mechanism underlying how a low pH shock triggers reprogramming – and why it does not happen when we eat lemon or vinegar or drink cola?”

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