Johns Hopkins Researchers Make Stem Cells From Blood Cells

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A colony of human embryonic stem cells. [Credit: Wikimedia Commons]
Stem cells are a miraculous cellular material that can be used to repair nerve damage, or even grow brand new organs. Researchers from Johns Hopkins Hospital may have discovered a new way to create stem cells using your very own blood cells. This newly developed method could actually revert adult red blood cells back into stem cells as though they came from a 6-day-old embryo.

Technically, scientists have developed reverted blood cells back into stem cells before by using viruses to deliver state-reverting genes. Such a process, however, can have disastrous side effects, like mutated genes or cancers.

The new process developed by the Johns Hopkins researchers, as published in PLoS One, circumvents the risky need for viruses by using plasmids, rings of DNA that, according to Johns Hopkins, "replicate briefly inside cells and then degrade." To ready the blood cells for the plasmids implantation, the scientists treated them with an electrical pulse to make their surface more porous.

Once the plasmids attach themselves to the blood cells they insert four additional genes into the cell. These additional genes cause the blood cells to revert into a more primitive state called induced-pluripotent stem cells (iPS). The researchers left some of these iPS cells to grow on their own in a petri dish, and left others to cultivate with some irradiated bone-marrow cells.

In the end, the scientists discovered that the dish with bone-marrow cells produced the superior crop of iPS cells within 7 to 14 days. The Johns Hopkins researchers also say that they have had success in creating stem cells with blood cells from adult bone marrow and circulating blood.

The research sounds promising, to say the least. The availability of stem cells, which can become to whatever kind of cells you need, could one day lead to all new types of therapies. The team is continuing its studies into the science by testing the quality of its newly formed iPS cells and their ability to convert into other cell types.

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