Stem Cells Acid Breakthrough: Adult State Reverts to Embryonic

Wednesday, 29 Jan 2014 11:50 AM

By Clyde Hughes

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Scientists in Japan have created a new stem cell treatment in which adult cells can be reverted to an embryonic state within 30 minutes using acid, a major discovery.

Scientists at the Riken Centre for Developmental Biology in Kobe, Japan, say that cells taken from newborn mice "lose their identity" within 30 minutes of being exposed to the acid concoction and can morph into any type of cells, from blood to bone to muscle.

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Scientists have said, according to The Telegraph, that the ability to turn cells back to their embryonic state allows them to be turned into any other type of cell in the body. 

"Remarkably, instead of triggering cell death or tumor growth as might be expected, a new cell state emerges that exhibits and unprecedented potential for differentiation into every possible cell type," Austin Smith of Cambridge University wrote in science journal Nature.

Haruko Obokata, a scientist at the Riken lab, told The Guardian that her team had created several dozen mice that had tissues grown from the cells, and then followed their health for one to two years. 

"So far they appear to be healthy, fertile, and normal," Obokata said.

Past attempts to make stem cells have failed. Another method, called induced pluripotency, uses genetic manipulation to change adult cells into a more flexible state, but it poses a set of challenges.

Obokata told The Guardian that the idea of using acid with adult cells came to her by chance, after she noticed cells that had been squeezed through a thin tube shrank. Obokata said she examined more closely what effects like heat, starvation and acidic conditions had on cells.

The scientist said that she was eventually able to prove that she could change white blood cells taken from newborn mice into cells that behaved very much like stem cells after years of research.

Obokata said she expanded her research to do the same with brain, skin, muscle, bone marrow, lung and liver cells.

"It was very surprising to see that such a remarkable transformation could be triggered simply by stimuli from the outside," Obokata said.

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