Stem cells are those who can differentiate into specialized cells and they have a huge potential for medicine.
At first, this kind of cell could only be obtained by destroying human embryos but a few years ago it was developed a way to turn skin or blood cells into stem cells. The problem is that it was necessary to make genetic changes to them, so perhaps they cannot be used for medical therapy.
The new technique, which was recently published on Nature, subjects specialized cells to stress instead of requiring nuclear transfer or the introduction of transcription factors. They found that the somatic cells give rise to steam cells by reprogramming rather than selection. Many stresses were tried (such as physical damage, plasma membrane perforation, osmotic pressure shock, growth-factor deprivation, heat shock or high Ca2+exposure), but the one with the best results was to bathe the cells with an acidic solution (pH 5.4–5.8 was the most effective range).
This technique worked for cells taken from various organs of newborn mice, but it was more efficient with white blood cells.
The mice were genetically engineered so pluripotent cells would glow green.
Researchers put the cells in culture to grown and some of them (between two-third to one-half) died after the acid bath, but among those that survived, many were glowing green by the seventh day, so they called them STAP (stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency) cells.
To prove the STAP cells could indeed turn into every cell type in the body, the scientists injected the cells into mice embryos. They grew into mice with cells derived from the STAP ones in all tissues of their bodies and even placental tissues, and they could reproduce and pass along the genetic characteristics from those cells. That provides evidence that the cells were not abnormal.
The work was replicated using monkey cells and skin cells from human babies, but it would have to work with cells from adult humans to be used to treat patients. Scientists think if this technique works on people the cells could be used to repair damaged cells and organs in the body.
The findings of the experiment indicate that epigenetic fate determination of mammalian cells can be converted in a context-dependent manner by strong environmental cues.
I think this is a very important discovery because stem cells are really useful for medicine. They can be useful with many diseases like cancer or Parkinson so I think it is important to keep investigating about them. If the technique works on people, this could be a quick way to produce this type of cells without using genetic manipulation, so it could be easier to work with these cells.
Source: The New York Times