Shocking Cells With ‘Sublethal Stress’ Creates Stem Cells

Ordinary cells taken from newborn mice were transformed into potent stem cells by receiving acidic stress, two studies published in the journal Nature found.

The new technique reprograms cells without adding genes and may generate stem cells quicker than an existing method, according to Japan’s Riken Center for Development Biology, where researchers who led the studies are based. Research and biotechnology companies surged in Tokyo trading today.

“The unexpected finding” opens the possibility of obtaining stem cells through a simple procedure and without genetic manipulation, said Austin Smith, a researcher at the University of Cambridge in the U.K. in a separate paper in Nature. There are currently several ways to regenerate pluripotent stem cells, including one that uses embryos and one that reprogrammes matured cells by inserting genes.

“They have established a new principle,” Smith said. It remains to be seen whether adult cells will respond similarly and the cells have yet to be produced from other species and humans, he said.

The studies were led by Haruko Obokata at Riken who worked with other institutions such as Charles Vacanti’s lab at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School. The potent stem cells can contribute to both embryonic and placental tissues, the studies said.

The conversion process requires only that “the cells be shocked with a dose of sublethal stress, such as low pH or mechanical force,” to trigger a transformation, the Riken statement said.

Japan Push

In July, Japan’s Health Ministry gave the go-ahead for the world’s first clinical trial on humans with stem cells made using the technique of Shinya Yamanaka of Kyoto University.

In an embryo’s early stages, stem cells are pluripotent, meaning they can become any type of tissue in the body. As the embryo develops, they begin to specialize, or differentiate, into building blocks for the body’s different structures.

Yamanaka showed how these later-stage cells can be reprogrammed into what are termed induced pluripotent stem cells, or iPS cells. He won the Nobel prize in 2012 for discovering the method, which sidestepped ethical debates by avoiding the destruction of embryos.

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe aims to cement the country’s leadership in the field of research and has pushed through bills that fast-track regulatory approval for cell-based products and set new research guidelines.

Shin Nippon Biomedical Laboratories Ltd., which provides pre-clinical tests to drugmakers, rose as much as 25 percent in Tokyo trading and Cellseed Inc. gained as much as 24 percent. Cosmo Bio Co., which sells research reagents and instruments, surged as much as 17 percent. Japan Tissue Engineering Co., which makes cultured cartilage and skin tissue, soared as much as 14 percent.

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