U.S. team conducts study using new cell technique in monkeys

Kyodo

A research team at Harvard University has conducted a preliminary study on monkeys paralyzed by spinal cord injuries using a newly found technique for turning specialized cells into multipurpose ones that behave like embryonic stem cells, one of the team members said Thursday.

The same team is also experimenting with human cells in the hope of generating so-called STAP cells, which can turn into any type of body tissue, according to Charles Vacanti, a Harvard professor who co-authored papers on STAP cells published in the journal Nature on Wednesday.

A team of researchers at Harvard and the Riken Center for Developmental Biology in Kobe, including Vacanti and Haruko Obokata, a Riken biologist who was the lead author of the Nature papers, has developed a new method for generating cells that behave like embryonic stem cells by simply soaking mouse blood cells in a mild acid.

The researchers named the transformation of the cells “stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency,” or STAP.

In the Harvard experiment that began in 2011, STAP cells have been created from monkeys artificially paralyzed with spinal cord injuries to implant them into the primates.

Vacanti declined to go in detail about his findings, noting that he is preparing a paper for submission. But he suggested that the therapy has had positive effects, saying in an email that he has seen “amazing results.”

Vacanti said he has also created STAP cells from human dermal fibroblast cells but has “not yet fully characterized them.”

Meanwhile, the research team at Riken, Tokyo Women’s Medical University and the Harvard team applied last year for an international patent for the STAP cell technique, with Obokata and six other individuals listed as inventors, according to Riken.

Researchers are pinning hopes on STAP cells and other types of cells that have the ability to transform into any type of cell in the body as they could be used to repair organs and tissues that have been damaged or lost due to injury or disease.