Induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) are somatic cells that are reprogrammed into becoming stem cells and these can then become a wide range of cells and tissues. The ability to turn, say, skin cells into muscle or nerve cells is the foundation of the emerging field of regenerative medicine.
Recently we did a post on a new method of creating induced pluripotent stem cells, which does not require either destroying embryos or genetic engineering, only a bath with certain chemicals. This breakthrough caused great excitement around the world.
And quite surprising many scientists around the world have started to replicate the Japanese experiment. Unfortunately, until now without success. However, many scientists working in this field are, as yet, still reluctantly to call this discovery a fraud. Instead many suggest that the Japanese have not unfold the whole procedure, possibly due to a patent application.
Nature, the journal which has published the Japanese research, is now investigating the integrity of the scientists who wrote the article. We believe that this is a good thing, though we hope that the researchers will be found integer, after all extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.
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.
Last month Dutch scientist Mark Post presented the first hamburger made from cultured meat. Today we received the news that the Dutch blood bank group Sanquin, is doing research to produce red blood cells in vitro, also known as erythrocytes.
Just as is the case with in vitro meat induced pluripotent stem cells are used. Only these stem cells aren’t directed to differentiate into muscle tissue, but into red blood cells. The involved researchers motivate this research as follows:
Culturing erythrocytes from immortal induced pluripotent stem cells (IPS) potentially solves the donor dependency problem and provides a tool to generate specific low immunogenic erythrocytes. (Sanquin, visited at September 20, 2013).
The production of blood in vitro, called hematopoieses by Sanquin, has several benefits. Blood transfusions have an associated risk for communicable diseases, therefore by using cultured blood instead of donor blood, the transmission of infectious diseases can be eliminated. It also reduce the number of blood donors required.
And this latter benefit is of great importance for space settlers. If as a result of some accident in a space settlement, blood transfusions are needed, in vitro blood might provide this without having to rely on blood transports from Earth. In a small and isolated community, classic collection of blood might prove to be insufficient in some cases. Typically only half a litre of blood is taken from an adult donor at a time, while some surgeries might require several litres of blood.
In vitro blood is just another technological development, which might help us to colonize our Solar System.