Groundbreaking: Embryonic Stem Cells Made With Acid
This is big.
Scientists have found a way to create embryonic stem cells without using an embryo or without introducing genetic material. The discovery could revolutionize medicine by giving doctors a way to repair diseased and damaged tissue — think heart disease, blindness, skin burns — with organs and tissue grown from the patient’s own cells.
The researchers, led by Haruko Obokata from the Riken Center for Developmental Biology in Kobe, Japan, found that by when they applied various stresses to white blood cells, such as bathing them in acid or putting them in a low-oxygen environment, nearly bringing them to the brink of death, some of the cells lost their “blood identity” and reverted to a state equivalent to an embryonic stem cell.
They call these cells STAP, for stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency.
When the scientists transferred the STAP cells to a special growth-promoting solution, they began to multiply and look like embryonic stem cells, which can grow into any type of cell — skin, bone, organ — depending on the environment into which they were placed.
And when the cells were injected into mice embryos, they contributed to the overall tissue of the baby mice, something that researchers didn’t think would be possible.
Not only is the approach faster and far cheaper than current methods, but it eliminates the controversy surrounding embryonic stem cell research, which requires the destruction of an embryo, raising ethical concerns. The new approach also avoids the genetic risks associated with the alternative to the embryonic method, called induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells. That technique requires the introduction of genetic material into a cell, and has lead to tumor growth in some cases.