Skip to Content

Stressful Research Turns Cells into Stem Cells

Claims for a new, simple, technique to create stem cells.
January 29, 2014

A new report in Nature claims that bathing cells from an adult mouse in a simple acid solution turns them into potent and versatile stem cells.

The advance, carried out by Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and the RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology in Kobe, Japan, suggests that it may be far easier than anticipated to reprogram adult cells, possibly opening up new avenues in regenerative medicine. Scientists have long anticipated being able to grow tissues or organs using just a few cells from a patient.

Cells capable of growing and being manipulated in the lab, while retaining the ability to form a complete animal, were discovered in 1981, after being culled from mouse embryos. Then in 2006 work that later won a Nobel Prize, Japanese researchers found a way to induce any adult cell into a similar embryonic state by introducing just four genes. The resulting cells are known as iPS cells.

The new result indicates that much the same result occurs simply by subjecting cells to the stress of an acid bath.

That may provide far simpler ways to make stem cells. But the finding is so surprising that the authors said they had difficulty convincing other scientists and getting their paper published.  “Everyone said it was an artefact — there were some really hard days,” Haruko Obokata, a stem cell biologist who carried out the project told Nature news.

Stem cell research has previously been troubled both by outright fraud and results that turned out to be incorrect. The latest work, which got its start several years ago in the laboratory of Charles Vacanti, a tissue engineer at Brigham and Women’s, was slow to progress for that reason. “Our lab was pretty ridiculed,” Vacanti told the Boston Globe.

The researchers next need to show the technique works with human cells. “Until you show it works in humans, it’s hard to know what the application is going to be,” William Lowry, a developmental biologist at the University of California, Los Angeles told the Associated Press. “For now, the question of whether it’s a lab curiosity or a big medical benefit, that’s still up in the air.”

Keep Reading

Most Popular

Rendering of Waterfront Toronto project
Rendering of Waterfront Toronto project

Toronto wants to kill the smart city forever

The city wants to get right what Sidewalk Labs got so wrong.

Muhammad bin Salman funds anti-aging research
Muhammad bin Salman funds anti-aging research

Saudi Arabia plans to spend $1 billion a year discovering treatments to slow aging

The oil kingdom fears that its population is aging at an accelerated rate and hopes to test drugs to reverse the problem. First up might be the diabetes drug metformin.

Yann LeCun
Yann LeCun

Yann LeCun has a bold new vision for the future of AI

One of the godfathers of deep learning pulls together old ideas to sketch out a fresh path for AI, but raises as many questions as he answers.

images created by Google Imagen
images created by Google Imagen

The dark secret behind those cute AI-generated animal images

Google Brain has revealed its own image-making AI, called Imagen. But don't expect to see anything that isn't wholesome.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose WongIllustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.