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Vitamin C efficiently reprograms adult stem cells to produce embryonic cells

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

New findings from researchers show that vitamin C enhances the process of reprogramming adult stem cells into embryonic stems cells, or pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs). The finding has important implications for regenerative medicine, and was a surprise to researchers who say past efforts geared to reprogramming adult stem cells into embryonic stem cells that have a wider array of applications for treating diseases have been inefficient.

"The low efficiency of the reprogramming process has hampered progress with this technology and is indicative of how little we understand it. Further, this process is most challenging in human cells, raising a significant barrier for producing iPSCs and serious concerns about the quality of the cells that are generated," explains senior study author Dr. Duanqing Pei from the South China Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine at the Guangzhou Institutes of Biomedicine and Health, Chinese Academy of Sciences.

According to the National Institutes of health resource for stem cell research, “Human embryonic and adult stem cells each have advantages and disadvantages regarding potential use for cell-based regenerative therapies. One major difference between adult and embryonic stem cells is their different abilities in the number and type of differentiated cell types they can become. Embryonic stem cells can become all cell types of the body because they are pluripotent. Adult stem cells are thought to be limited to differentiating into different cell types of their tissue of origin.”

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The scientists discovered that vitamin C has the ability to change gene expression, accelerating the process of transforming adult stem cells into embryonic stem cells. The researchers say other antioxidants however did not show the same results as did vitamin C, touted for its anti-aging ability and for fending off colds.

The ability of vitamin C to turn adult stem cells into embryonic stem cells is thought to be related to reactive oxygen species (ROS). The researchers believe that high levels of ROS may interfere with the reprogramming of adult stem cells into embryonic stem cells, leading them to explore antioxidants.

"Our results highlight a simple way to improve iPSC generation and provide additional insight into the mechanistic basis of reprogramming," says Dr. Pei. "It is also of interest that a vitamin with long-suspected anti-aging effects has such a potent influence on reprogramming, which can be considered a reversal of the aging process at the cellular level. It is likely that our work may stimulate further research in this area as well."

Vitamin C was found to have a “potent” effect on mouse and human adult stem cells, reprogramming adult stem cells to embryonic stem cells. The new findings that vitamin C can boost the production of embryonic stem cells from adult stem cells offers a source of cells for use in regenerative medicine that could be used in the treatment of a variety of human diseases.

Cell Stem Cell