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Breakthrough stem cell research: Creating embryonic stem cells without using embryos

2 February 2014, 7:41 pm EST By Vamien McKalin Tech Times
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Scientists have found a new way to create stem cells. The new procedure, known as known as stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency or STAP, is quite revolutionary, as the main aspect is exposing the mature adult cells to various stressful environments including trauma, a low oxygen environments and an acidic environment to reprogram them to becoming embryonic stem cells.  ( Alden Chadwick )

There's a new breakthrough in stem cell research that could help create cells faster and for a lot less. The new procedure is quite revolutionary, as the main aspect is exposing the mature adult cells to various stressful environments including trauma, a low oxygen environments and an acidic environment. This might come off as shocking and dangerous, but Japanese scientists have proven this is not the case.

Stem cell research is capable of transforming into any tissue and has already been used to heal the brain, eyes, and heart. Stem cells can also be used to replace missing limbs, but that procedure has not yet been tested on humans.

The main source used to create stem cells, are embryos, as they are ethically charged source of stem cells. Furthermore, it has been shown that skin cells can also be reprogrammed to become stem cells. This is called induced pluripotent stem cells.

However, now a new study has shown that shocking blood cells with acid could trigger the blood cells to transform into stem cells. This process is known as stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency, or STAP for short. If additional research clears this new procedure for human testing, it could bring along new possibilities for scientists and doctors. It could make regenerative medicine a reality, and also be a possible cure for cancer and other diseases.

The study, conducted by researchers from Brigham and Women's Hospital (BWH) and the RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology in Japan, demonstrates that any mature adult cell can be reprogrammed to become the equivalent of an embryonic stem cell through the STAP process. The study has been published in the January 30, 2014 issue of Nature.

"It may not be necessary to create an embryo to acquire embryonic stem cells.  Our research findings demonstrate that creation of an autologous pluripotent stem cell - a stem cell from an individual that has the potential to be used for a therapeutic purpose - without an embryo, is possible.  The fate of adult cells can be drastically converted by exposing mature cells to an external stress or injury. This finding has the potential to reduce the need to utilize both embryonic stem cells and DNA-manipulated iPS cells," said senior author Charles Vacanti, MD, chairman of the Department of Anesthesiology, Perioperative and Pain Medicine and Director of the Laboratory for Tissue Engineering and Regenerative Medicine at BWH and senior author of the study. 

"This study would not have been possible without the significant international collaboration between BWH and the RIKEN Center," he added. 

The first successful tests were achieved in mouse blood cells. However, researchers are now contemplating using human blood in an attempt to get similar results and we could be on the verge of a huge medical breakthrough if it works.

"If we can work out the mechanisms by which differentiation states are maintained and lost, it could open up a wide range of possibilities for new research and applications using living cells. But for me the most interesting questions will be the ones that let us gain a deeper understanding of the basic principles at work in these phenomena," said first author Haruko Obokata, PhD.

"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 personalised medicine would have finally arrived," Chris Mason, chair of regenerative medicine bioprocessing at University College London, told the Nature.

It takes 10 months to move from a patient's skin sample to something that could be used in their eyes, or anywhere else on their bodies. It also involves a huge cost for both the patient and the institution performing the procedure. However, with STAP, the time from sample to therapy would be less, which in turn would cut down on costs all across the board.

Still, more information is needed before the possibilities of human trials in the near or distant future. This is something new and scientists must locate what problems could arise and remove them before going forward.

"The existing methods are already quite advanced," said Sheng Ding, a scientist at the University of California, San Francisco, and the affiliated Gladstone Institutes. "It's too early to say this is better, safer or more practical."

Already, some animals are known to have impressive cells regeneration capabilities. For example, in some amphibians, cells can be used to regenerate new limbs along with other body parts. Understanding these creatures more could help humans fix a lot of problems where medicine is concerned. We may no longer have to worry about the inability to get a new heart or lungs from a donor, as with the new advancements, stem cells could be used to regenerate the missing or damaged pieces.

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