Researchers turn adult cells back into stem cells | wfaa …


USA TODAY Special Contributor

Posted on January 29, 2014 at 10:32 AM

In a step that has implications for stem cell research, human biology and the treatment of disease, researchers in Japan and at Harvard University have managed to turn adult cells back into flexible stem cells without changing their DNA.

The researchers discovered that they could put cells in various challenging circumstances including in acidic solutions and under physical pressure and turn mature blood cells into cells that were capable of turning into virtually any cell in the body.

The research, published today in the journal Nature, was in mice. If it can be repeated in people, it has the potential to transform research using stem cells to treat disease, and it may lead to a new understanding of how the body heals from injury, said Charles Vacanti, the Harvard Medical School stem cell and tissue engineering biologist who led the research.

Biology textbooks say that once a cell matures to serve a specific role, like, say a red blood cell, it can never go back into a less mature state. Vacanti and his colleagues say their new research upends that dogma.

"This study demonstrates that any mature cell when placed in the right environment can go back, become a stem cell, which then has the potential to become any cell needed by that tissue," said Vacanti, also of Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.

He believes that that process happens naturally in the body after injury, and the more significant the injury, the farther back these cells will revert. "With a very significant injury, you will cause it to revert clear back to what is basically an embryonic stem cell," he said.

In an early embryo, all cells are stem cells, capable of turning into any cell in the body. As the fetus develops, those cells differentiate into cells with specific functions in muscles, blood, organs, etc. Some of those mature cells develop diseases and injuries. The promise of stem cells as yet largely unrealized is to provide patients with healthy versions of their own cells that can then repair damage and reverse disease.

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Researchers turn adult cells back into stem cells | wfaa ...

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