Page URL:

Stem cells grown from adult tissue in live mice

16 September 2013
Appeared in BioNews 722

For the first time living tissue in mice has been induced into an embryonic state without any intervening preparation in the lab.

Some of the cells obtained from the mice in these experiments show signs of 'totipotency' – the ability to become any of type of specialised cell – a state only previously observed in embryonic stem cells.

Stem cell researchers not involved in the study have praised it as an exciting 'proof of concept'. But any application in regenerative medicine would be decades away, were it to come at all; the mice in the study had been genetically engineered for the experiments and the transformation technique led them to develop dangerous tumours.

The research, by scientists from the Spanish National Cancer Research Centre (CNIO) builds on famous laboratory experiments led by Nobel prize-winner Professor Shinya Yamanaka. He injected adult cells with four genetic factors and produced the world's first induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells, capable of becoming any specialised cell found in the bodies of adults.

The CNIO researchers used mice genetically engineered so that their cells carried extra copies of the four genetic factors used by Professor Yamanaka. These factors, though, would only be 'switched on' by the drug doxycycline.

In the experiments, the mice given doxycycline in their drinking water developed teratomas - tumours containing multiple cell types which can be indicative of cellular reprogramming - in several organs. The teratomas were shown to contain iPS cells, as was blood taken from the mice.

These cells' gene expression patterns resembled those found in cells taken from embryos only 72 hours after fertilisation. Further experiments showed that the cells could develop into a cell normally found in the placenta that no other engineered stem cell has been able to generate. The researchers also induced growth of embryo-like structures in the chest and abdominal cavities of some mice. These structures showed signs of blood cell formation.

'This data tells us that our stem cells are much more versatile than Yamanaka's in vitro iPS cells, whose potency generates the different layers of the embryo but never tissues that sustain the development of a new embryo, like the placenta', said Dr Manuel Serrano, who led the study.

The technique is now likely to be refined by other researchers investigating cell biology and early embryo development. The implications for regenerative medicine are less clear.

Dr Serrano said his team 'can now start to think about methods for inducing regeneration locally and in a transitory manner for a particular damaged tissue' but other commentators have been more cautious.

Professor Robin Lovell-Badge, head of developmental genetics at the Medical Research Council National Institute for Medical Research, said: 'As it is, I can’t see this being useful with respect to making human iPS cells – I would not volunteer to have the factors expressed within me'. He added, however, that eventually mice containing human cells or tissues could be used to grow human iPS cells.

Professor Chris Mason, a stem cell researcher from University College London told BBC News: 'Overall it's very cool and potentially very exciting, but it has massive issues in terms of control'.

A CNIO team is the first to produce embryonic stem cells in living adult organisms
EurekAlert! (press release) |  11 September 2013
Adult cells turned into stem cells in the body
NHS Choices |  12 September 2013
Expert reaction to new research into induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells
Science Media Centre |  11 September 2013
Reprogramming in vivo produces teratomas and iPS cells with totipotency features
Nature |  11 September 2013
Stem cells created in living mice
Nature News |  11 September 2013
Stem cells: Living adult tissue transformed back into embryo state
BBC News |  11 September 2013
14 April 2014 - by Dr Lucy Freem 
Turning on a single gene can regenerate the thymus in elderly mice, causing the immune system organ to double in size and make more white blood cells...
10 February 2014 - by Chris Hardy 
Stem cells have reversed the equivalent of type 1 diabetes in genetically modified mice. Using skin cells as a starting point, researchers formed pancreas precursor cells that produced insulin when injected into mice...
3 February 2014 - by Dr Lanay Griessner 
Stem cells have been created from mouse blood cells using a simple and quick method described as 'remarkable' by experts...
3 February 2014 - by Dr Dusko Ilic 
This apparent witch's recipe is how a group of Japanese scientists have generated new mice: a remarkable finding that proves that true greatness lies in simplicity...
14 October 2013 - by Dr Greg Ball 
Large-scale production of liver and pancreas cells is becoming a possibility, as scientists have developed a cell culture method allowing stem cells to grow in the laboratory...
9 September 2013 - by Siobhan Chan 
The first patients from two separate ongoing studies have been treated using gene and stem cell therapies to repair damage caused by heart attacks...
19 August 2013 - by Dr Katie Howe 
A mouse heart was able to contract again after its own cells were removed and replaced with human stem cells, a study in Nature Communications reports...
5 August 2013 - by Dr Rosie Morley 
Scientists have grown tooth-like structures in the lab using stem cells derived from human urine combined with embryonic mouse cells...
22 July 2013 - by Dr Katie Howe 
Human stem cells have been used to create networks of blood vessels in mice that functioned for nine months...
This is VERY interesting ( - 17/10/2013)
This is VERY interesting. However, I did some of my own research and I've learned that with bioengineered tissue, there will almost always be some probability of cancer. This is due to the fact that the tissue is developed from stem cells which have a lot in common with cancer cells.
to add a Comment.

By posting a comment you agree to abide by the BioNews terms and conditions

Syndicate this story - click here to enquire about using this story.