Japanese Scientists Discover New Method to Create Stem Cells

February 2, 2014 in Science, Top News

Neurons Developed From Stem Cells

Motor neurons, in red, and neural fibers, in green, were developed from human embryonic stem cells in the lab of neuro-developmental biologist Su-Chun Zhang at the University of Wisconsin Madison. Source: Su-Chun Zhang/University of Wisconsin.

Researchers in Japan have discovered a ground-breaking method for turning ordinary blood cells into stem cells. That’s according to a study called “Stimulus-Triggered Fate Conversion of Somatic Cells Into Pluripotency” published Jan. 29 in the scientific journal Nature. Experts in stem cell research worldwide are hailing this as a game-changing development for stem cell research and regenerative medicine.

Stem cells are essential to the development of many aspects of regenerative medicine. They are “undifferentiated” cells that scientists can transform into almost any kind of cell or tissue in the body. Applications include the healing of organs and treatments for a wide range of diseases, including forms of cancer.

According to the study, scientists at the Riken Center for Developmental Biology in Japan found they can transform regular blood cells into stem cells through a simple process of acid immersion. Riken Center scientists succeeded in their cell conversion research working with mouse blood. The researchers plan to continue their efforts working next with human blood.

Chris Mason, Professor and Chair of Regenerative Medicine Bioprocessing at University College London told the Telegraph, “If it works in man, this could be the game changer that ultimately makes a wide range of cell therapies available using the patient’s own cells as starting material – the age of peronalised medicine would have finally arrived.”

PolicyMic’s Benjamin Cosman reports, “with this new discovery, scientists can turn regular blood cells into stem cells just by placing them in acid for roughly 30 minutes. That’s it. It’s a major breakthrough in the way stem cells are produced, and one that could translate to major breakthroughs in the way stem cells are used in a wide variety of treatments.”

So far, stem cells either have been available only from embryos or from adult stem cell tissue located in certain parts of the body. If developed and applied successfully to humans, this new method of obtaining stem cells will have the advantage of being easier, faster and less controversial than methods available to date.

Dr. Dusko Ilic, Kings College London Reader in Stem Cell Science comments, “Whether human cells would respond in a similar way to comparable environmental clues, it stills remains to be shown. I am sure that the group is working on this and I would not be surprised if they succeed even within this calendar year.

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

Scientists credited with the newly published results are Haruko Obokata, Teruhiko Wakayama, Yoshiki Sasai, Koji Kojima, Martin P. Vacanti, Hitoshi Niwa, Masayuki Yamato, and Charles A. Vacanti.