Biologists Create Embryonic-Type Stem Cells Without Embryos
By Liisa Vexler
A new age in biology and biotechnology may be upon us as scientists in London, England have successfully created embryonic-type stem cells without the use of actual embryos. By re-engineering mature cells, scientists may be close to overcoming one of the largest ethical debates in stem cell research, the use of human embryos. Though the initial research was conducted with cells from mice, scientists believe the technique could be successful in humans.
Researchers at the University College London were able to generate pluripotent cells from fully developed, or mature cells. Chris Mason, Chair of Regenerative Medicine Bioprocessing at the institution described the process as “the most simple, lowest-cost and quickest method” to-date. These pluripotent cells have unlimited therapeutic potential as they are able to develop into different cell types.
Mason explained to Reuters, “If it works in man, this could be the game changer that ultimately makes a wide range of cell therapies available using the patient’s own cells as starting material”.
Researchers from other institutions including Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School and the RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology in Japan took part in this study.
Scientists performed the experiment by allowing mature cells to multiply and then, using a number of methods, stressing them almost to the point of death. According to the researchers, the cells were able to survive and recover by returning to a state similar to that of an embryonic stem cell.
Stem Cells Defined
Stem cells are undifferentiated cells that have the ability to differentiate into specialized types of cells that the body needs. There are two types of stem cells, embryonic stem cells found in embryos, and adult or IPS stem cells, which are harvested from the blood or skin and genetically reprogrammed into stem cells.
According to scientists, the stem cells’ ability to regenerate tissue makes them valuable in the fight against degenerative diseases including Parkinson’s and cardiovascular disease.