While stem cell research has always been a controversial topic, to say the least, the potential benefits it can bring humanity are pretty much obvious. By using and performing tests on the highly debated cells, scientists could potentially cure syndromes such as Down’s, fix stroke aftermaths, and even regrow limbs.
But since most stem cell research is either banned or underfunded, we’re most likely not going to see too much development in the field anytime soon. Meanwhile, countries like England are doing the best they can under the current limitations, with Cambridge researchers developing naive pluripotent stem cells.
According to one of the researchers involved in the project, Ge Guo from Cambridge,
Until now, it hasn’t been possible to isolate these naive stem cells, even though we’ve had the technology to do it in mice for 30 years — leading some people to doubt it would be possible.
By deriving naive pluripotent stem cells from human embryos, the British team is intending to help speed up research for conditions such as Down syndrome. And the fact that they derived the cells is an accomplishment in and of itself, as the procedure is very difficult for a number of reasons.
Naïve pluripotent stem cells are basically tabula rasa. They are the earliest form a cell can take before they can even start differentiating into specific cell types. The problem with obtaining them is that even the earliest embryos have some measure of imprint, stripping them of their tabula rasa status.
This naturally occurring imprint is called priming. While there are two ways of getting the embryonic stem cells for research – collecting those derived from fertilized eggs resulted from IVF procedures and modifying skin cells so that they become stem cells – both methods provide already primed stem cells.
The very interesting part of stem cell research consists of the huge amounts of potential they have. The cells could potentially regenerate damaged tissues and organs, including heart, liver, pancreas, etc., and could even make cloning these organs possible, saving millions of lives worldwide.
As for the procedure the researchers used, it’s quite difficult to put in layman’s terms. Five days after an egg is first fertilized, the embryonic cells clump together forming a blastocyst before being implanted in the uterus. This blastocyst contains three cell types – one that becomes the placenta, one that becomes the yolk sack that delivers nutrients to the fetus, and a third that becomes the fetus.
By extracting the cells that develop into the fetus, the team of researchers managed to separate them before they managed to communicate and get imprinted.
Image source: Pixabay