Japanese researchers have been able to create stem cells useful for regenerative medicine for research by exposing mature cells to an acidic bath. The discovery means stem cells can be produced not only easily but also without destroying embryos.
In research published by Nature on Thursday, researchers Haruko Obokata et al. found a way to create stem cells that are "pluripotent," which means they can be modified into other types of cells.
This is a trait commonly found in embryonic stem cells, which unlike adult stem cells have a strong ethics debate surrounding their usage.
"We recently discovered an unexpected phenomenon of somatic cell reprogramming into pluripotent cells by exposure to sublethal stimuli, which we call stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency (STAP)," reads the study in part.
"This reprogramming does not require nuclear transfer2, 3 or genetic manipulation4. Here we report that reprogrammed STAP cells, unlike embryonic stem (ES) cells, can contribute to both embryonic and placental tissues, as seen in a blastocyst injection assay."
Brendan Foht, assistant editor at The New Atlantis who holds degrees in political science and biology, told The Christian Post that this was "a very surprising discovery."
"This idea that you can transform regular adult cells into pluripotent cells just by exposing them to acid … it seems kind of unbelievable but similar crude methods have sometimes been used to accomplish very surprising results in biology," said Foht.
Foht told CP that the presented research by Obokata looked to be a "solid paper" which had to go through a rigorous bout of peer review before being published.
"You sometimes see really dramatic breakthroughs like this and they sometimes turn out to be fraudulent or maybe they were pushed through peer review because they seemed like such an exciting idea," said Foht.
"From a preliminary reading of the stories of this that Haruko Obokata had to go through quite a bit of trouble and had to face a lot of skepticism."
During the Bush administration, there was much debate over embryonic stem cells and whether or not the federal government should fund research.
Proponents argued that embryonic stem cells could lead to several miracle cures while critics argued it was unethical and involved the destruction of human life.
When President Barack Obama began his term, he allowed for federal funding of embryonic stem cell research. However, a major corporate backer halted its investment in embryonic stem cell research in November 2011.
"Certainly when Obama changed the federal policy on funding of stem cell lines, there were a lot more embryonic stem cell lines that became used in research," said Foht.
"The induced pluripotent stem cells have been increasingly used and they have been kind of the direction that things have been going … It looks like iPS cells are catching up with embryonic stem cells for a lot of these applications."