'Rebooted' stem cells may lead to new treatments
These features, the authors commented, distinguished these reset cells from other types of embryo-derived or induced pluripotent stem cell, and aligns them closer to the ground-state embryonic stem cell (totipotent) in mice.
How did the researchers interpret the results?
The researchers indicate their findings demonstrate the "feasibility of installing and propagating functional control circuitry for ground-state pluripotency in human cells". They added the reset can be achieved without permanent genetic modification.
The research group explained the theory that a "self-renewing ground state similar to rodent ESC [embryonic stem cells] may pertain to primates is contentious", but "our findings indicate that anticipated ground state properties may be instated in human cells following short-term expression of NANOG and KLF2 transgenes. The resulting cells can be perpetuated in defined medium lacking serum products or growth factors."
This laboratory study showed human pluripotent stem cells could be coaxed into a seemingly more primitive developmental state, exhibiting some of the key features of an equivalently primitive embryonic stem cell in mice. Namely, this is the ability to stably self-renew and be able to develop into a range of other types of cell.
If replicated and confirmed by other research groups, this finding may be useful to developmental biologists in their efforts to better understand human development and what happens when it goes wrong and causes disease. But this is the hope and expectation for the future, rather than an achievement that has been realised using this new technique.
Sounding a note of caution, Yasuhiro Takashima of the Japan Science and Technology Agency and one of the authors of the study, commented on the Mail Online website: "We don't yet know whether these will be a better starting point than existing stem cells for therapies, but being able to start entirely from scratch could prove beneficial."
This is the start rather than the end of the journey for this new technique and the cells derived from it. The technique will need to be replicated by other research groups in other conditions to ensure its reliability and validity.
The cells themselves will also need to be studied further to see if they do really have the stability and versatility of true primitive stem cells expected under different conditions and time horizons. This will include looking for any subtle or unusual behaviour further down the development line, as has been found to be the case with other types of stem cell thought to be primitive.
Overall, this study is important to biologists and medical researchers as it potentially gives them new tools to investigate human development and associated diseases. For the average person the immediate impact is minimal, but may be felt in the future if new treatments arise.
Analysis by Bazian. Edited by NHS Choices. Follow Behind the Headlines on Twitter. Join the Healthy Evidence forum.
"Scientists have managed to 'reset' human stem cells," the Mail Online reports. It is hoped studying these cells will provide more information about the mechanics of early human development.
Links to Headlines
Ultimate human stem cells created in the lab. New Scientist, September 12 2014
Links to Science
Takashima Y, Guo G, Loos R et al. Resetting Transcription Factor Control Circuitry toward Ground-State Pluripotency in Human. Cell. Published online September 11 2014
- NHS Choices links
- Adult cells turned into stem cells in the body
- 'Safe' stem cell therapy may help stroke recovery
- Scientists grow 'tiny livers' from human stem cells
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