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Acid bath converts blood cells to stem cells

3 February 2014
Appeared in BioNews 740

Stem cells have been created from mouse blood cells using a simple and quick method described as 'remarkable' by experts.

The study identifies a new type of stem cell that is formed under specific stress conditions and has the ability to become all cell types, including placental tissue.

These 'stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency' (STAP) cells were created after cells from week-old mouse pups were bathed in weak acid for half an hour: a result that surprised the scientists, from the Riken Center for Developmental Biology, Japan.

Dr Haruko Obokata, lead author, said: 'A big part of the discovery process was in trying to work out a better explanation for what at the time was an unexplainable observation'.

Obokata and colleagues sampled blood from the spleens of mice that carried a gene only present in stem cells, called Oct-4. These mice had a fluorescent marker attached to the Oct-4 gene so that their cells would glow when Oct-4 was expressed. They found that some white blood cells exposed to acid stress (pH of 5.7, similar to that of Coca-Cola) for 30 minutes would not die as they had anticipated, but would grow. After two days some of these cells began to glow, indicating that they had become stem cells.

With this positive result, the team then injected the STAP cells into mouse embryos, and found that over time the STAP cells were incorporated into all three germ layers of a developing embryo. The pups of these mice also incorporated STAP cells into their tissues, showing that they were inheritable.

STAP cells could be used in stem cell therapy in the future to 'seed' damaged organs with healthy cells, decreasing the need for organ replacement.

Chris Mason, professor of regenerative medicine at University College London, commented on the study: 'If it works in man, this could be the game changer that ultimately makes a wide range of cell therapies available using the patient's own cells as starting material – the age of personalised medicine would have finally arrived'.

The study is published in Nature.

Update: the papers have now been retracted by Nature (see BioNews 761).


Acid bath offers easy path to stem cells
Nature News |  29 January 2014
STAP cells overturn the pluripotency paradigm
Riken Centre for Developmental Biology (press release) |  29 January 2014
Stem cell 'major discovery' claimed
BBC News |  29 January 2014
Stem cell power unleashed after 30 minute dip in acid
New Scientist |  29 January 2014
Stimulus-triggered fate conversion of somatic cells into pluripotency
Nature |  29 January 2014
28 September 2015 - by Rebecca Carr 
Researchers investigating the purported creation of 'STAP' cells have confirmed that the pluripotent cells were in fact derived from embryonic stem (ES) cells...
7 July 2014 - by Antony Starza-Allen 
Nature has retracted two papers published in January on the creation of so-called 'STAP' cells, after all co-authors agreed to the retractions....
7 July 2014 - by Dr Dusko Ilic 
Two papers published back to back in Nature took our breath away earlier this year, but the research community soon became sceptical and the published work was subjected to unprecedented scrutiny. How is it possible that something like this could happen?...
9 June 2014 - by Dr Rachael Panizzo 
The lead author of a controversial study describing a new type of stem cell - stimulus-triggered acquisition pluripotency (STAP) cells - has agreed to retract two research papers published in the journal Nature in January 2014...
12 May 2014 - by Purvi Shah 
Japan's RIKEN Center has announced that an appeal by stem-cell scientist, Dr Haruko Obokata, found guilty of research misconduct in relation to her claims of converting blood cells to stem cells using an 'acid bath', has been rejected...
9 December 2013 - by Dr Greg Ball 
Human induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells) have been transformed into lung and airway cells for the first time...
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...
16 September 2013 - by James Brooks 
For the first time living tissue in mice has been induced into an embryonic state without any intervening preparation in the lab...
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...
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