Vitamin C `key to creating stem cells`

London: Vitamin C, an essential nutrient for humans, could be used to overcome hurdles in creating stem cells for treating diseases, say scientists.

An international team has discovered that the vitamin
boosts the reprogramming of adult cells only to give them the
properties of embryonic stem cells, a finding which paves the
way for creating the reprogrammed cells -- induced pluripotent
stem cells (iPSCs), `The Daily Telegraph` reported.

According to the scientists, IPSCs offer a solution
to the ethical problems involved in producing embryonic stem
cells with the potential to become any kind of human tissue,
from bone to brain.

Embryonic stem cells have to be extracted
by cannibalising early stage embryos obtained from fertility
clinics. IPSCs, on the other hand, are made in the laboratory
from ordinary adult cells by altering their genes.

The conversion of ordinary cells into iPSCs is
highly inefficient and difficult to achieve. Often the cells
age prematurely and stop dividing or may die, a process known
as senescence.

Adding vitamin C to the cell cultures was found to hold back senescence and make reprogramming much more efficient. Experiments with both mouse and human cells showed that the vitamin accelerated genetic changes and boosted the transition to a reprogrammed state.

Dr Duanqing Pei, from the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Guangzhou, who led the research, said: "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 quality of cells that are generated.
Our results highlight a simple way to improve iPSC generation
and provide additional insight into the mechanistic basis of

"It is also of interest that a vitamin with
long-suspected anti-ageing effects has such a potent influence
on reprogramming, which can be considered a reversal of the
ageing process at the cellular level. It is likely that our
work may stimulate further research in this area as well."

The findings have been published in the latest edition
of the `Cell Stem Cell` journal.