Stem cells can now be transformed even into an entire embryo!

Stem cell research has become a central focus of a significant portion of the medical science community ever since their discovery. Initially believed to be usable only when harvested from the fetal tissue, modern science enabled creation of stem cells out of almost every cell in our developed bodies, and with proper guidance and presence of environmental factors, those embryonic stem cells could be pushed to transform into many types of cells that researchers need. However, researchers from the  Salk Institute and Peking University in China have managed to push into the unknown and create something that nobody has done before – a new type of stem cells that could be transformed into truly any kind of cells in our body.

 

Named as extended pluripotent stem cells (EPS cells), this cells are very similar to induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells that were first discovered in 2006), but are capable of creating even more advanced types of tissues that were previously believed inaccessible to achieve via traditional iPS stem cell research. This is believed to be possible since the key difference exists in the creation of these stem cell types. iPS cells are created from fibroblast skin cells, while EPS  cells are made from the combination of skin cells and harvested embryonic stem cells. The major success of the EPS cells is that they can be used to create advanced tissues that are required to maintain, nourish and provide an environment for the growth of embryos.

 

One of the study authors, scientist Jun Wu, has described this amazing find: “The discovery of EPS cells provides a potential opportunity for developing a universal method to establish stem cells that have extended developmental potency in mammals.”

 

The process of human egg fertilization is understood by the modern science community, but the earliest processes are still hard to be recreated they happen almost immediately after fertilization. The two most important processes that happen then are the creation of the embryo and the creation of extra-embryonic tissues such as placenta and others. This new procedure discovered by Chinese scientists enable the modern medical community to finally gain access to all those kinds of tissues that are used in earliest stages of fetal development. They could culture them, study them in action, and devise new treatments, diagnosis, test medication and gain understanding processes that drive the earliest growth inside the embryos and what can cause an early miscarriage.

 

The procedure devised in this study relies heavily on a chemical cocktail of four distinct chemicals that enables the creation of a stable environment in which both types of egg cells can be grown and studied. The early tests have shown that both types of cells are useful for creating of chimeras (mixing of human and animal cells that produce totally different cells) and that this procedure can in theory even create a stable and sustainable embryo (tested in both human and mice cells). Ethical boundaries stopped them to research this area in more detail.
In addition to creating embryo cells, researchers from all around the world will in the following years gain the ability to tests new types of trial drugs, work on regenerative tissue, model diseases with better accuracy, study early reproductive processes, and new human-animal chimeras could bring untold new advances.

Source: Salk, Technology Networks, Nature

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