February 27, 2012
Researchers Use Noxious Gas To Convert Stem Cells To Liver Cells
Japanese scientists have recently discovered that hydrogen sulfide (H2S) — the chemical responsible for such malodorous phenomena as human flatulence, bad breath and rotten eggs — can be used to efficiently convert stem cells from human teeth into liver cells.
While the fetid chemical compound is produced in small quantities by the human body for use in a variety of biological signaling mechanisms, at high concentrations it is highly poisonous and extremely flammable.
A team of researchers at the Nippon Dental University in Tokyo collected stem cells from the teeth of patients undergoing extractions. The cells were harvested from the central part of the tooth known as the pulp which is made up predominantly of connective tissue and cells.
Stem cells recovered from the pulp were then divided into two groups and incubated in sealed chambers, one filled with hydrogen sulfide and the other a control group.
The cells from each chamber were then examined at three-day intervals to look for signs of transformation into liver cells. One such indicator is the ability to store glycogen, a compound that can be converted to glucose when the body needs energy.
According to a report of their findings that appeared this week in the Journal of Breath Research, the team was able to convert the stem cells to liver cells in relatively high numbers. And what´s more, said the team, H2S appears to help produce comparatively high quality, functional liver cells.
Lead researcher Ken Yaegaki explained that “[h]igh purity means there are less ℠wrong cells´ that are being differentiated to other tissues, or remaining as stem cells “¦ These facts suggest that patients undergoing transplantation with the hepatic cells may have almost no possibility of developing teratomas (malignant tumors) or cancers.”
For the thousands of people around the world with chronic liver disease, this is a most welcome discovery, one that Yaegaki believes could potentially revolutionize this field of medicine.
“Until now, nobody has produced the protocol to regenerate such a huge number of hepatic cells for human transplantation,” added Yaegaki.
“Compared to the traditional method or suing fetal bovine serum to produce the cells, our method is productive and, most importantly, safe.”
Yaegaki´s hope is that his team´s discovery may eventually be fine-tuned to allow scientists to produce ample liver cells in a lab for use in repairing liver damage in human patients.
Moreover, this and similar studies in recent years have also gotten researchers in other fields questioning the possibilities for using hydrogen sulfide with other types of stem cells.
A team of researchers in China, for instance, recently reported using H2S to increase the survival rate of mesenchymal stem cells extracted from the bone marrow of rats.
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