Some things in science are too obvious to be noticed and we tend to look in the wrong places. In the first stem cell work they were harvested controversially from embryos but then came a great breakthrough. Stem cells could be reprogrammed by form specialized adult cells such as skin cells by genetic transcription factors – at first it was thought that 4 were necessary, then it proved that each of these could be substituted by various other transcription factors or even by some quite simple chemical molecules.
Now it seems we shouldn’t have been surprised that reprogramming was not the mammoth feat of genetic interactions that had been envisaged. Simple physical stress can flip an adult, specialised cell such as a blood cell, nerve or muscle cell back into a stem cell that can develop in different ways depending on where in the cellular environment it is placed. This is rather as if you could bring a ruined building back to its pristine condition by giving it a good shake.
All kinds of shocks can do the trick but the most effective is an acid medium. Given that our stomachs are full of acid it is odd that our bodies are normally resistant to unwanted reprogramming into stem cells. But that is by the by; the stem cell bandwagon gathers pace.
The research is reported in the current Nature:
Nature, 505, 596 (30 January 2014) doi:10.1038/505596a