In Japan, scientists have found a remarkably easy way to make cells that can grow into any tissue in the body.
The method if it can be repeated in human tissue, may lead to cheap and simple methods to make patient-matched stem cells that could repair damaged or diseased organs.
In a series of elegant experiments, researchers showed that cells plucked from mice could be turned into all-powerful master cells by immersing them in a mildly acidic solution for half an hour.
Haruko Obokata at the Riken lab in Kobe, Japan, told the Guardian that her team was able to create several dozen mice that had tissues grown from the cells.
Previous attempts to make stem cells were filled with difficulties. One route was cloning, which is controversial as it involves creation and destruction of embryos. Another more recent method, called induced pluripotency, makes use of genetic manipulation to convert adult cells into a more flexible, immature state.
Obokata started work on the method five years ago while working at Harvard Medical School.
The idea came into her mind after she noted that cells squeezed through a thin tube shrank to the size of stem cells. She then looked more closely at the effects different kinds of stress - from heat, starvation and acidic conditions - had on cells.
After years of experiments, she showed that she could convert white blood cells taken from newborn mice into cells with behavior similar to stem cells.
The work has been reported in two papers in the journal Nature.