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2014年2月 2日 (日)

STAP細胞 理系女子の発想が常識覆した

The Yomiuri Shimbun February 1, 2014
Female researcher’s innovative idea leads to breakthrough discovery
STAP細胞 理系女子の発想が常識覆した(2月1日付・読売社説)

An international research team’s discovery of a new method for obtaining pluripotent cells represents an epoch-making achievement that may defy well-established theories in biology.

The team, led by Haruko Obokata of the Kobe-based Riken Center for Developmental Biology and including researchers from Harvard University in the United States, has successfully produced pluripotent cells that can grow into mature tissues or organs of any sort.

Lymphocytes collected from mice were bathed in acid solution to produce the cells. They were also created through another method of applying stimulus to mouse lymphocytes by exposing them to toxins or passing them through a narrow glass tube.

If the new method proves successful for human cells, it could be applied for regenerative medicine to bring damaged tissue or organs back to health. We want to laud the new discovery for opening up a wide array of possibilities.

The team calls the new method “stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency (STAP)” and the cells it produces “STAP cells.”

Many living things start with fertilized eggs that differentiate into tissues and organs. It was conventionally believed that differentiated tissues could not return to the undifferentiated state of a fertilized egg. So it is no wonder that STAP cells have captured the world’s attention.

The team contributed the initial version of its research paper to a science journal last year. But thanks to highly unexpected method for producing pluripotent cells, the publisher swiftly sent it back, reportedly saying that the paper mocked the history of cell biology. Undaunted, team leader Obokata and other researchers tenaciously pushed on with experiments to reinforce the data, thereby realizing the publication of their discovery in the journal.

There are two other well-known types of such versatile cells: embryonic stem cells and induced pluripotent stem cells. Production of these two types of pluripotent cells requires going through a complicated process, including gene manipulation.

The STAP cell, which is a third type of pluripotent cell, can be produced by utilizing the latent potential inherent in living cells.

Fleshing out the process

What happens to the cells after they are stimulated? A detailed elucidation of the mechanisms behind the process is an important task to tackle in the future. Such findings could be expected to contribute to research into the mechanisms that cause the growing and aging of living things as well as diseases.

Behind this breakthrough discovery is the priority assistance given to research on regenerative medicine by the government. The Riken Center for Developmental Biology, to which Obokata belongs, is a research center for regenerative medicine established with such government aid.

International competition in the field is fierce, and the government’s continued assistance will be a must.

At 30, Obokata is still a young researcher. She will be a role model for young researchers in displaying creative power and building cooperative relationships with veteran researchers.

Her achievement may encourage other female researchers and women majoring in the sciences who aspire to become researchers.

Women account for a mere 14 percent of researchers in Japan today, the lowest ratio among industrialized countries. The government’s basic plan for science and technology targets boosting that figure to 30 percent, but many women still leave work in research laboratories after having children and for other reasons.

Needless to say, family support is crucial to female researchers. So are good government policies to aid them.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 1, 2014)
(2014年2月1日01時37分  読売新聞)


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