Scientists have discovered a more ethical way to produce cells that have the ability to transform into any type of tissue, without destroying human embryos.
Japanese scientists said the discovery involves producing stem cells simply by placing white blood cells in a mild acidic solution for 30 minutes.
Lead scientist, Haruko Obokata, said: “I’m not sure if there was a single ‘Eureka!’ moment”, but “it’s exciting to think about the new possibilities these findings open up”.
Embryonic stem cells are hugely controversial because sourcing them involves the destruction of human embryos.
But the latest findings, published in the science journal Nature, offer hope of a cheaper, more ethical way of producing stem cells.
Chief Executive of the Christian Medical Fellowship, Dr Peter Saunders said: “It is a tragedy that British scientists have wasted so much time, money and energy exploring the dead end street of embryonic stem cell research”.
Saunders told The Christian Institute that the controversial technique “is rapidly becoming a farcical footnote in history”.
“Thankfully researchers in Japan and elsewhere are making the much needed breakthroughs using ethical methods,” he added.
The study was done on mice and one expert said that if replicated in humans it would usher in an “age of personalised medicine”.
Obokata and her team, who have been working on this for five years, described the discovery as “amazing”.
They are not however, the first ones to discover an ethical way of sourcing stem cells.
In 2012 another Japanese researcher Shinya Yamanaka won a Nobel Prize for his “pioneering work”over several years in producing stem cells from adult skin cells in mice.
Obokata’s method is however, easier and more efficient.
The process is called stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency (STAP), because it uses a trigger – such as mild acidic solutions – to produce stem cells.
Saunders said: “It takes us one further large step closer to an ethical alternative to using embryonic stem cells (which involve the destruction of an embryo) to provide treatments for conditions including diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, spinal injury and ischaemic heart disease.”