News Column

Study: new method could be a quicker source of stem cells

January 30, 2014

By Andrew Pollack

The New York Times

A surprising study has found that a simple acid bath might turn cells in the body into stem cells that could one day be used for tissue repair and other medical treatments.

The technique, performed only with cells from mice, might turn out to be a quicker and easier source of multipurpose stem cells than methods now in use.

"If reproducible in humans, this could be a paradigm changer," said Dr. Robert Lanza, a stem-cell scientist who was not involved in the work. Lanza, chief scientific officer of the biotechnology company Advanced Cell Technology, said the technique might also make it easier to clone animals or even people, raising ethical questions.

The new technique was developed by researchers at the Riken Center for Development Biology in Kobe, Japan, and at Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston. Two papers by the researchers were published in the journal Nature on Wednesday.

Some experts expressed caution, saying that more is needed to be known about the new approach and that existing techniques for making stem cells had improved markedly in recent years.

Certain stem cells can be easily grown in the laboratory and can turn into any type of cell in the body, which is called pluripotency. Researchers think these stem cells may one day be used to repair damaged cells and organs in the body, although experiments trying this in people are in very early stages.

The technique involves subjecting specialized cells, like blood or skin cells, to stress.

The researchers in Kobe and Boston tried various stresses, including squeezing the cells, but found that bathing the cells for half an hour in a mildly acidic solution seemed to work best.

The mice from which the cells were taken had been genetically engineered so their cells would glow green if Oct4, a gene associated with pluripotent cells, was active.

After the acid bath, the cells were grown in culture. Many died from the exposure to acid, but among those that survived, many were glowing green by the seventh day.


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Source: Virginian - Pilot


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