Researchers have transformed specialized cells into an embryonic-like state simply by stressing them out a bit—an unexpected finding that may offer an easier route for treating diseases with patient-specific stem cells.
Stem cells that can become all other tissue types are typically obtained in two ways. One requires the destruction of an embryonic clone of a patient, which is ethically controversial. The other, which uses genes to reprogram a patient\’s mature cells into an embryonic-like state, carries the risk of cancer.
Now, in a series of pathbreaking experiments done over five years, scientists have shown that merely exposing blood cells from newborn mice to a low-acid environment—the source of stress—changes them to an embryonic-like state. The key advantage is that no potentially risky genetic manipulation was needed.