(USA TODAY) -- In a step that has implications for stem cell research, human biology
and the treatment of disease, researchers in Japan and at Harvard
University have managed to turn adult cells back into flexible stem
cells without changing their DNA.
The researchers discovered that
they could put cells in various challenging circumstances - including in
acidic solutions and under physical pressure - and turn mature blood
cells into cells that were capable of turning into virtually any cell in
The research, published today in the journal Nature,
was in mice. If it can be repeated in people, it has the potential to
transform research using stem cells to treat disease, and it may lead to
a new understanding of how the body heals from injury, said Charles
Vacanti, the Harvard Medical School stem cell and tissue engineering
biologist who led the research.
Biology textbooks say that once a
cell matures to serve a specific role, like, say a red blood cell, it
can never go back into a less mature state. Vacanti and his colleagues
say their new research upends that dogma.
"This study demonstrates
that any mature cell when placed in the right environment can go back,
become a stem cell, which then has the potential to become any cell
needed by that tissue," said Vacanti, also of Brigham and Women's
Hospital in Boston.
He believes that that process happens
naturally in the body after injury, and the more significant the injury,
the farther back these cells will revert. "With a very significant
injury, you will cause it to revert clear back to what is basically an
embryonic stem cell," he said.
In an early embryo, all cells are
stem cells, capable of turning into any cell in the body. As the fetus
develops, those cells differentiate into cells with specific functions
in muscles, blood, organs, etc. Some of those mature cells develop
diseases and injuries. The promise of stem cells - as yet largely
unrealized - is to provide patients with healthy versions of their own
cells that can then repair damage and reverse disease.
Most people are familiar with stem cell research because until 2006, embryos had to be destroyed to study them.
Japanese researcher Shinya Yamanaka developed a strategy for tinkering
with adult cells, reverting them to stem cells. This has led to dramatic
advances in the field, but because his approach required changes to the
genetic material in a cell's nucleus, researchers have been anxious
about using these cells in patients.
If stem cells can be created
simply by bathing adult cells in a low-pH solution or putting them under
physical pressure, that would make research simpler and more applicable
to the real world, according to several researchers not involved in the
"It would be a game changer in the sense that we think
of cell reprogramming as an artificial process that requires complicated
genetic manipulation," said Ricardo Dolmetsch, Global Head of
Neuroscience at the Novartis Institutes for Biomedical Research, a
Cambridge, Mass.-based arm of the drug company. "From a practical point
of view, if all it takes is a a change in pH and a change in cell
culture conditions, then this will make the process of making stem cells
a lot simpler and lot easier to scale."
In the two papers
published today, the researchers, including several from the RIKEN
Center for Developmental Biology in Kobe, Japan, produced cells they
call stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency or STAP cells, by
putting white blood cells under various stressors, including a low-pH,
acidic solution for five minutes, and physical pressure. Vacanti said
they tested five other conditions similar to those that happen in the
human body during injury, and he thinks some combination of these
factors will turn out to be most efficient at creating stem cells.
the research so far has been in mice, Vacanti said he recently created
what appear to be STAP cells from human skin cells. That research needs
to be replicated and peer reviewed before it is considered valid.
Jaenisch, a stem cell biologist at the Whitehead Institute at the
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said he found the team's results
quite surprising and cautions that more research is needed before the
potential of this new approach can be understood. "I think it's a first
step," he said. "Quite a lot of questions were unresolved."
You may also like...
Arrrrrr! Pirates invade Tampa for Gasparilla
Treason? Secret Service visits candidate who says Obama should hang
Mystery House: Unsuspecting house holds a hidden secret
Abuse Arrest: Hog-hunting mom leaves kids in freezing car
Seeking Sasquatch: Bigfoot sightings abound in Colorado
Cyclist stuck in windshield: "Hi, I'm the guy you hit"
Miracle Baby: Tampa toddler has 5-organ transplant
Here kitty, kitty: Lion escapes enclosure at Pasco sanctuary
#ShortYellows: Florida quietly shortened yellow lights
Kittens shot: Officer shoots kittens in front of children
Popular photo galleries:
Faces of Meth: Devastating before and after photos of meth abusers
Trayvon Martin Shooting: Trayvon Martin crime scene photos and George Zimmerman injury photos
Hooters Winners: Winners of the 2013 Hooters swimsuit pageant
Rejected: Funny Florida license plates rejected by the DMV ***warning graphic***
Deadly sinkhole: Home collapses, man dies in giant sinkhole
Florida Sex Offenders: Look up sex offenders in any Florida neighborhood here
Restaurant Inspections: Look up inspection reports for any Florida restaurant here