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 reprogramming.

“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.

Keywords: Stem cellsembryoniciPSCs