Stem cell researchers in Japan are heralding a “major scientific discovery”, with the potential to start a new age of personalized medicine.
Scientists showed stem cells can now be made quickly just by dipping blood cells into acid.
Stem cells can transform into any tissue and are already being trialed for healing the eye, heart and brain.
The latest development, published in the journal Nature, could make the technology cheaper, faster and safer.
The human body is built of cells with a specific role – nerve cells, liver cells, muscle cells – and that role is fixed.
However, stem cells can become any other type of cell, and they have become a major field of research in medicine for their potential to regenerate the body.
Embryos are one, ethically charged, source of stem cells. Nobel Prize winning research also showed that skin cells could be “genetically reprogrammed” to become stem cells (termed induced pluripotent stem cells).
Now a study shows that shocking blood cells with acid could also trigger the transformation into stem cells – this time termed STAP (stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency) cells.
Dr. Haruko Obokata, from the Riken Centre for Developmental Biology in Japan, said she was “really surprised” that cells could respond to their environment in this way.
She added: “It’s exciting to think about the new possibilities these findings offer us, not only in regenerative medicine, but cancer as well.”
The breakthrough was achieved in mouse blood cells, but research is now taking place to achieve the same results with human blood.