Stem cells made with just seven chemicals

Cocktail of molecules turns adult mouse cells into embryonic-like ones

Whipping up a batch of stem cells just got easier.

A new recipe for transforming adult cells into embryonic-like ones calls for a chemical cocktail to erase signs of age. By adding just seven small molecules, scientists can turn back time for mature mouse cells, converting them into pluripotent stem cells. These cells hover at the brink of developing into virtually any type of tissue.

Researchers have previously created pluripotent stem cells using cloning, or by dosing a dish of adult cells with “master genes” that flip grown-up cells back to a youthful state. But cloning cells and tinkering with genes can be expensive and technically tricky.

So biologist Pingping Hou of Peking University in Beijing and colleagues scoured a collection of about 10,000 chemicals and found a combination that mimicked the cell-programming effects of master genes. Adding the combo to adult mouse cells turned them into pluripotent stem cells, which the researchers could then make into brain, lung or muscle tissue, Hou and colleagues report July 18 in Science.

If the chemical method works in human cells, it could one day make stem cells for medical use, the researchers suggest.

Meghan Rosen headhsot

Meghan Rosen is a staff writer who reports on the life sciences for Science News. She earned a Ph.D. in biochemistry and molecular biology with an emphasis in biotechnology from the University of California, Davis, and later graduated from the science communication program at UC Santa Cruz.

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