Human Cells’ Time Travel


Last week, I wrote about cells in mice turning pluripotent, meaning having the ability to turn into any cell from our body, by just dipping them in an acidic solution. The conclusion was that if converting normal, specialised cells and converting them into pluripotent cells was possible in humans, it would mean hope for studies in regenerative science and cancer research.

Well, scientists at Harvard Medical School did not waste their time and have already accomplished this feat. Using human cells this time, instead of mice cells, the team applied different environments to the cells, until they finally managed to make them behave like the mice STAP cells (Stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency) they had previously created.

embryo 8

Embryo cell, with 8 totipotent cells

However, these new cells did show some differences to the original, and it’s because different solutions were used, since mice and human cells are not identical and the same solutions wouldn’t have worked. Which solutions were used still remains a secret, and it could be for the best, to prevent uncontrolled use of human pluripotent cells is not advisable.

Another drawback is the fact that these human STAP cells have not shown totipotency (the ability to form a placenta and therefore create an organism). But this could not be as bad as it looks at first sight. The use of totipotent cells at the moment is very strict and regulated, but the study of pluripotent cells not as much. So although work with human totipotent cells couldn’t be done, pluripotent cells are still very useful and worth having a look at.

Of course work still needs to be done, but we are one step closer to being able to study stem cells and the opportunities they provide. It is still a very admirable achievement from scientists at Harvard to have found this only a week after the results with mice were published.

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