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Stem cells

Stem cell breakthrough: Scientists discover way to 'grow your own'

Monday, February 10, 2014 by: J. D. Heyes
Tags: stem cells, scientific breakthrough, pluripotency

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(NaturalNews) One of the most ethically sensitive issues in American society, save abortion, has been the issue of stem cells and, in particular, the harvesting of them from human embryos, a process which results in the embryo's destruction.

Now, however, scientists believe that they have discovered a "game-changer" in stem cell research: a way for humans to reproduce their own, bypassing the ethical problems associated with their harvesting in the past.

As reported recently by Reuters:

In experiments that could open a new era in stem cell biology, scientists have found a simple way to reprogram mature animal cells back into an embryonic-like state that allows them to generate many types of tissue.

The research, described as game-changing by experts in the field, suggests human cells could in future be reprogrammed by the same technique, offering a simpler way to replace damaged cells or grow new organs for sick and injured people.

This could be the game changer

The chairman of regenerative medicine bioprocessing at University College London, Chris Mason, who was not involved in any of the research, said that the approach, using mice, was "the most simple, lowest-cost and quickest method" to generate what are called pluripotent cells, or those which are able to develop into a number of different cells, from mature ones.

"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 personalized medicine would have finally arrived," he told the newswire service.

The results of the research, which were reported in a pair of papers published in the journal Nature, involved scientists from the RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology in Japan, as well as Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School in the U.S.

Scientists took skin and blood cells and allowed them to multiply before subjecting them to stress "almost to the point of death" by exposing them to various factors, the team explained. These factors included low oxygen, trauma and acidic environments. One "stressful" event was bathing cells in a weak acidic solution for around a half-hour.

Within a few days, researchers discovered that the cells not only lived but recovered naturally by changing into a state resembling that of an embryonic cell:

These stem cells - dubbed Stimulus-Triggered Acquisition of Pluripotency, or STAP, cells by the researchers - were then able to differentiate and mature into different types of cells and tissue, depending on the environments they were put in.

"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," said Haruko Obokata, who led the work at RIKEN.

What makes stem cells so important is that they are the body's so-called master cells; they are able to differentiate into all other types of cells. Researchers say that helping to regenerate tissue and maybe even grow new organs might lead to additional health benefits, such as fighting diseases for which only limited treatment options currently exist.

Some of the most recent experimental research includes stem cells being able to create a functional human liver and beating heart muscle tissue.

Discovered by accident

As to the new method, it was pretty much discovered by accident. According to the Boston Globe:

Dr. Charles Vacanti is an unlikely protagonist for one of the most startling scientific discoveries in years.

The genial 63-year-old anesthesiologist who left stem cell scientists shaking their heads in wonder and puzzlement last week, with the discovery that a simple acid bath could be used to generate powerful stem cells, doesn't even have a PhD.

Vacanti is an accomplished tissue engineer and the chairman of the Anesthesiology Department at Brigham and Women's Hospital, but he's a virtual outsider to the highly competitive and fast-moving stem cell field. ...

His discovery is a reminder that as specialized as science is, sometimes, a little ignorance may be a virtue. A stem-cell expert would probably never have even bothered to try the experiment Vacanti has been pursuing, on and off, since the late 1990s.

And while the research appears promising, there is much more to be done.

"Whether human cells would respond in a similar way to comparable environmental cues... remains to be shown," said Dusko Ilic, a reader in stem cell science at Kings College London. "I am sure that the group is working on this and I would not be surprised if they succeed even within this calendar year."





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