Unfortunately, this sounded too good to be true. Other scientists have failed to reproduce these results and ultimately the scientists involved had to retract their article. [update January 2, 2015]
Japanese scientists claim to have developed a new method to create human “embryonic-like” stem cells, without the ethical concerns of using real human embryos. Induced pluripotent stem cells have been considered as the solution for the controversial use of human embryos as source for stem cells for medical treatments, and for years scientists have been developing techniques to create such induced pluripotent stem cells. But until now these methods required the genetic engineering of adult cells, the Japanese have now found a method to change adult cells into stem cells without genetic engineering.
According to The Independent the scientists have succeeded to create induced pluripotent stem cells, just by bathing adult cells in a weak acid for half an hour. This new development is quite promising, if this method really works then stem cell therapy has the potential to become a widespread and reasonably cheap treatment for a wide variety of diseases.
The two main competitors of this technique, therapeutic cloning and traditional induced stem cells, are quite expensive. In “classic” induces pluripotent stem cells, complicated genetic engineering techniques are required, which demand skilled personal. And further genetic engineering is to a certain degree gambling, the genes have to get into the right place, or it will fail.
And besides the ethical controversy surrounding therapeutic cloning, this method has a serious drawback: the need for a huge amount of human egg cells. Harvesting human egg cells is not easy, since this requires surgery. And it’s questionable that there will be many women willing to sell or donate their eggs for this purpose.
A cheap and reliable supply of stem cells is beneficial for the field of tissue engineering, the creation of tissues and organs outside the human body.