A team of researchers from Boston and Japan were able to transform mature blood cells from mice into the equivalent of stem cells by introducing them to an acidic environment. This is the first time that stem cells have been created without having to introduce outside DNA into the cells.
"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.
The latest development, published in the journal Nature, could be used to create stems cells easily and quickly. Stem cells are known to become other kinds of cells, and have the potential to regenerate injured parts of the body. Embryos are a controversial source of such cells, though more are under study, including Nobel-winning research in 2006 that showed skin cells could be genetically reprogrammed to become stem cells.
The researchers aren't sure how this happens, but have hypothesized that it could be due to hidden cell functions that are triggered by external stimuli.
Researchers are now attempting to use the same method to convert human blood cells and believe that if successful it could be used in not only regenerative treatment but cancer treatment as well.
"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 first author Haruko Obokata, of the RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology.
[Brigham and Women's Hospital]
[RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology]