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New Way to Begin Again

A pair of papers in Nature from researchers at Japan's Riken Institute and Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston report on a new technique for generating embryonic-like stem cells that some researchers are calling a "paradigm-changer."

In the papers, the researchers present their stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency, or STAP, approach to reprogramming cells. In brief, the STAP approach exposes cells to a strong stimulus — in this case, low pH — that they would normal not encounter. In some cases, this appears to trigger the generation of pluripotent cells. In mouse chimeras, the group shows that STAP-generated cells can grew into various mouse tissues.

"If this works in people as well as it does in mice, it looks faster, cheaper and possibly safer than other cell reprogramming technologies — personalized reprogrammed cell therapies may now be viable," Chris Mason, a professor of regenerative medicine at University College London who was not involved in the work, tells the BBC.

Other researchers are a bit more guarded. The University of California, San Francisco's Sheng Ding tells the New York Times that existing approaches are already quite advanced. "It's too early to say this is better, safer or more practical," Ding adds.

Dusko Ilic at Kings College London notes to the BBC that while this new method appears to be "revolutionary," it needs to be used with caution. "It does not bring stem cell-based therapy closer. We will need to use the same precautions for the cells generated in this way as for the cells isolated from embryos or reprogrammed with a standard method," Ilic says.

The Scan

Positive Framing of Genetic Studies Can Spark Mistrust Among Underrepresented Groups

Researchers in Human Genetics and Genomics Advances report that how researchers describe genomic studies may alienate potential participants.

Small Study of Gene Editing to Treat Sickle Cell Disease

In a Novartis-sponsored study in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers found that a CRISPR-Cas9-based treatment targeting promoters of genes encoding fetal hemoglobin could reduce disease symptoms.

Gut Microbiome Changes Appear in Infants Before They Develop Eczema, Study Finds

Researchers report in mSystems that infants experienced an enrichment in Clostridium sensu stricto 1 and Finegoldia and a depletion of Bacteroides before developing eczema.

Acute Myeloid Leukemia Treatment Specificity Enhanced With Stem Cell Editing

A study in Nature suggests epitope editing in donor stem cells prior to bone marrow transplants can stave off toxicity when targeting acute myeloid leukemia with immunotherapy.