An embryonic stem cell without an embryo

Any mature adult cell can potentially turn into the equivalent of an embryonic stem cell--without taking stem cells from an embryo, according to new research from Boston's Brigham and Women's Hospital (BWH).

In an article published in Nature, researchers from BWH and and the RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology in Japan demonstrated that cells can be reprogrammed without introducing outside DNA--avoiding the ethical concerns that surround the acquisition of human embryonic stem cells.

"The fate of adult cells can be drastically converted by exposing mature cells to an external stress or injury. This finding has the potential to reduce the need to utilize both embryonic stem cells and DNA-manipulated iPS  [induced pluripotent stem cells] cells," Charles Vacanti, M.D., senior author of the study, noted in an announcement.

The process mimics Mother Nature, he told CNN. "It's a natural process that cells normally respond to."

Researchers let mature adult cells multiply, then exposed them to various stressors including trauma, a low oxygen environment and an acidic environment. They found that cells not only survived, but recovered, by naturally reverting to a state equal to that of an embryonic stem cell. Those cells were then able to grow into any kind of cell or tissue.

Future testing will explore why and how stressful stimuli drive reprogramming. If the process can be recreated with human cells without genetic manipulation or the need to insert any outside genetic material, the possibilities for therapeutic options are endless, researchers said.

In December, International Stem Cell Corp. found a new way to genetically reprogram mature cells into an embryonic-like state, FierceBiotechResearch previously reported. 

To learn more:
- here's the Nature article abstract
- read the announcement
- here's the CNN article