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New way of producing pluripotent stem cells stuns biologists

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Biologists around the world are in shock following the discovery of a revolutionary third way of producing pluripotent cells, which can grow into any type of mature organ. The new research is the brainchild of a 30-year-old Japanese woman who triumphed over academic adversity, according to a report in the Yomiuri Shimbun (which also publishes the Japan News):

Haruko Obokata of the Kobe-based Riken Center for Developmental Biology came up with the idea for her research six years ago. She later developed a surprisingly simple method to create stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency (STAP) cells, which can develop into various cells.

Her paper was initially rejected by the British journal Nature, which was not convinced of her findings, but thanks to the helping hands extended by some experienced Japanese researchers, her research has finally been featured in the journal.

The article went on to say that Obokata’s decision to get involved in stem cell research resulted from attending a talk given by Nobel Prize laureate Shinya Yamanaka, a Professor at Kyoto University, in 2006. Later that year, Professor Yamanaka developed a technique to produce induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells – an achievement that shot him to international fame. Two years later, Obokata got an idea of her own for reprogramming cells cells, while doing research in the United States:

It was in 2008 while studying at Harvard University that Obokata came up with the idea of reprogramming cells by exposing them to external stresses — the inspiration that eventually led to her latest achievements.

During experiments, Obokata found that she could produce more stem cells than expected when mouse cells went through ultrafine glass tubes.

“I wondered if the stimuli that mouse cells were exposed to while passing through a very narrow space might have worked as a catalyst [for creating more stem cells],” Obokata said.

Obokata asked American experts to help her research her new idea, but nobody was interested in working with the young novice. Her lucky break finally came in 2010, when she visited Teruhiko Wakayama, the first person in the world to clone a mouse, who was working at the Riken’s research center at the time. Wakayama was skeptical at first, but he thought it would be great if Obokata’s crazy-sounding idea actually worked, as it would place Japan at the forefront of international research in the field.

In 2011, Obokata became a guest researcher at the Riken center, where she continued her attempts to reprogram cells by subjecting them to environmental stresses such as toxins and lack of nutrition. In winter that year, she and Wakayama achieved success, with the creation of a mouse from cells they had grown using their new technique.

Obokata submitted a paper to Nature but was rudely rebuffed. One of the paper’s reviewers even told her that she was making a mockery of the entire field of cell biology with her ridiculous ideas. Despite her discouragement, she refused to give up:

Obokata was depressed but had support from others including Yoshiki Sasai, 51, a top stem cell scientist and the center’s deputy director.

With that support, Obokata reanalyzed the data and resubmitted the article last March and it was accepted.

What made Obokata’s new ideas so revolutionary was that if she was right, stem cells could be produced very easily. The two other techniques used by biologists to create stem cells – embryonic stem cells (ES cells) and induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells) – both require advanced techniques, as well as interference of a very radical kind: ES cells have to be harvested from human embryos, which are destroyed in the process, while iPS cells require the introduction of three to four different types of genes using viral vectors to forcibly “reset” skin cells. However, with the new STAP technique developed by Obokata and her team, white blood cells known as lymphocytes (pictured above, image courtesy of Wikipedia) can be reset simply by being subjected to strong stimuli.

The new technique has additional advantages, described by Nobuhiko Harada and Tatsuo Nakajima in an article written for the Yomiuri Shimbun and later published in the Japan News:

While it takes two to three weeks to produce iPS cells, STAP cells can be produced in as little as about two days.

Furthermore, STAP cells are considered to be in a more embryonic stage as they can be transformed into placental tissue, a potential that ES cells and iPS cells do not have…

In addition, STAP cells are unlikely to turn cancerous in the body.

The technique also has a high success rate: about 30%, compared with 0.1% for induced pluripotent stem cells and 50% for embryonic stem cells.

Unlike ES cells and iPS cells, STAP cells do not multiply readily in the body. However, Obokata’s research team has developed a technique to enhance their proliferation by exposing them to a culture solution, the details of which remain shrouded in secrecy.

Readers with an interest in Intelligent Design may be interested to know that somatic cells in plants can be reset simply by the application of environmental stimuli. Haruko Obokata and her team, working in tandem with Harvard Medical School, were the first to demonstrate that the same technique could work for animal cells as well. The new technique promises to revolutionize the field of medicine:

Dr. Charles Vacanti of Harvard Medical School, a coauthor of the paper, believes the study proves the team’s hypothesis that in injured or otherwise damaged tissues, mature cells revert to stem cells to repair damage…

The finding is a major discovery likely to change the framework of life science research, said Robert Lanza, chief scientific officer of Advanced Cell Technology Inc., a U.S. biotechnology company that specializes in clinical applications of pluripotent cells.

But there’s more. Harvard University has already used STAP cells to cure a monkey paralyzed from the waist down, writes reporter Tatsuo Nakajima:

According to Prof. Koji Kojima of Harvard Medical School, a member of the research team, STAP cells were created from cells collected from the monkey, whose legs and tail were disabled due to spinal cord damage, and transplanted them into the monkey.

After the treatment, the monkey became able to move its legs and tail, he said.

As might be expected, patent applications are in the pipeline, and there is sure to be fierce international competition over intellectual property rights to apply the new technology in the area of regenerative medicine.

Nobel Laureate Shinya Yamanaka has applauded the new research.

Credits: The image of the human lymphocyte above was produced by Dr. Triche, of the National Cancer Institute, in 1976.

Very interesting if true... however the data might be faked there are some serious concerns about some of the figures in the STAP papers: In the Letter, Fig 1b and 2g appear to be showing the same placenta. In the Article, lane 3 in Fig 1i appears to be from a different gel. Please see for yourself:http://blog.goo.ne.jp/lemon-stoism/e/008ac025ee1ccf4c694869f09b053ee7 Paul Cloos
PaV The primary lesson from the peppered moths, as well as the finches -- clearly the primary lesson if we look at it objectively and strip away all the glowing rhetoric -- is that in response to environmental stresses populations tend to oscillate around a norm without undergoing any fundamental change. Eric Anderson
Well done VJ for reporting this! scordova
From an ID perspective, it would appear that physical stress (stress and shear forces) "reboots", as BA77 puts it, cells. If physical manipulation "reboots" the cells, this would mean that some damage is done to the forces holding cells together. Knowing, as we do, that organs form with nearby cells pushed into certain physical configurations, we understand that some kind of communication takes place across cell membranes of those cells on their way to forming an organ. Now, if all of that can be undone, then this points to the cell membranes themselves as repositories of information regarding what cells are nearby, and what physical configuration they, as well as itself, are occupying. Something is at work. Given that physical shear and stress are involved, I would think some form of electro-magnetism is involved, registered and mediated by a group of proteins. I suspect we'll hear about scientists investigating this. But, in the meantime, two points: (1) In all of what I've stated, the theory of evolution has provided no guidance whatsoever. On the contrary, I was guided by how information might be stored and shared. (2) We hear about how lipids in water can form a barrier. This is then elevated--without thinking--to being the equivalent of a cell membrane. This is an Origin of Life issue. For life to exist, the membrane of any cell has to be quite complex. And, if you can't explain how the first cell came about merely through physical forces, then all of what follows based 'merely on physical forces' is but supposition--not fact! One last thing: vjtorley mentions that "somatic cells in plants can be reset simply by the application of environmental stimuli." For over 7 years I have maintained that what is at root in most mutations, whether plant or animal, might prove to ultimately be tied to environmental clues/stimuli. My hunch is that when things are much better known, we will find NS to be pretty much nothing but a misnomer. This is how intelligence works: it is always attentive to the environment within which whatever is being created/invented must exist, and, a fortiori, when the given "creation" must interact with its environment. (E.g., do you make solar cells out of 'white' plastic, when the color 'white' reflects every wave-length of light that impinges on it? Just a simple example that is easily multiplied) [BTW, twice on these webpages I've gone round and round with evolutionists. Twice, more or less, I've come up on the short end of things. Once with Biston Bistulleria (peppered moth), and once with Darwin's finches. I would just like to mention this: in the case of Biston bistulleria, I think that the numbers of the study that was posthumously published look to be 'too good.' Mendel is accused of having faked his numbers since the followed his laws 'too closely.' This is tantamount to falling under the far end of a Bell-Shaped Curve: i.e., much too probable, instead of much too improbable. I invite somebody to study the numbers closely. As to Darwin's finches, well, Weiner's book on the finches reveals that out of nowhere, when abundant rain fell, two "species" of finches (remember, "species" don't mate with members outside of their species [reproductively isolated]) mated forming a hybrid. This "hybrid" then became the principal species, the dominant species of finch. So all of the numbers that have been crunched regarding these species become academic, almost meaningless. Another example of evolutionary mythology.] PaV
It will be interesting to see how this plays out. The later reality rarely lives up to the early hype, but even if this turns out to be half as remarkable as it sounds, it will be an incredibly important breakthrough, with huge possibilities. Eric Anderson
Amazing,,, "believes the study proves the team’s hypothesis that in injured or otherwise damaged tissues, mature cells revert to stem cells to repair damage…" WOW, Automatic reboot! :) ,,, So technicians spent years and years of diligent effort (and millions of dollars) trying to figure out the proper genetic switches that need to be reset in order to produce robust iPS cells, and then, thanks to a young upstart, (and no thanks to Darwinian thinking), it is found that slightly injured cells automatically revert back to square one (reboot) in order to do a full scale systems check and repair itself properly.,,, So who put that design feature in and when can I get it for my computer? :) Yiddish proverb: "Man plans and God laughs." bornagain77

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