There are “breakthroughs” and then there are Breakthroughs; and researchers at John Hopkins have definitely achieved the latter in a discovery which broke news yesterday. Researchers have discovered an efficient and perfectly safe method of turning adult blood cells “all the way back to the way [they were] when that person was a 6-day-old embryo.” The scientific community is still in shock at what can only be described as the discovery of the Holy Grail of science, in that this new technique will almost certainly lead to cures for the incurable — from the most devastating of heart attacks to severed spinal cords to stage 4 cancers — and eternal youth.
Scientists have known for years that stem cell therapy would change medicine forever. But these therapies are impossible to introduce into the wider population because they would require massive amounts of embryonic stem cells — a highly controversial field of science because of the need for actual human embryos. The alternative has always been to use stem cells found in umbilical cord blood — which is why rich parents commonly freeze the umbilical cord in highly expensive storage facilities to guarantee future treatment for their children. Another option for the wealthy has been the use of genetically engineered viruses which can successfully return adult cells to their stem cell state, but the procedure is far from safe and can easily lead to DNA mutations and possibly cancer.
The new method discovered at John Hopkins now changes everything and is about to rewrite the book on stem cells from beginning to end. The breakthrough is rooted in the fact that this new process uses normal adult blood cells from the patient, which entirely bypasses the need for embryonic stem cells, umbilical cord storage, and the more dangerous virus reprogramming technique. Not only is it completely safe, it’s also incredibly efficient. Gizmodo was one of the first to break the news yesterday: “researchers successfully transformed about 50 to 60 percent of adult blood cells into embryonic stem cells that can then be turn into any type of cell—a heart muscle cell, a bone cell, a nerve cell, anything.”
The news was first published in the journal Public Library of Science, which described how the groundbreaking new rejuvenating method “uses plasmids, DNA molecules that are usually present in bacteria and eukaryotic organisms. These plasmids can replicate themselves independently from the chromosomal DNA, disappearing after they complete their function. Using electrical pulses, the researchers opened holes in the membrane of blood cells extracted from a patient’s spinal cord. They used these tiny holes to inject plasmids loaded with four genes, programmed to make the cells revert to a primitive state. After the plasmids completed their function, they cultivated the cells with irradiated bone-marrow cells. Seven to 14 days later, the cultivated cells magically turned to embryonic stem cells.”
The research team at John Hopkins is busy taking a close look at the quality of the cells, but the scientific community is making it very clear that this discovery is nothing short of “miraculous”. In removing all barriers to entry, medical research can now begin to experiment at comparative light speed. Once these therapies are implemented, the world’s population could easily receive self-transplants of embryonic cells to “cure diseases, fix spinal cords or eye nerves, and rejuvenate organs by renewing tissues without rejection risks or any other side effect. Hypothetically, if you’re able to perpetually fix any part of your body, there’s no reason you wouldn’t be able to live as long as you wanted.” Furthermore, the discovery will also shut down the controversy and political debate over embryonic stem cell research once and for all.