A Japanese research team has discovered a way to render somatic cells (in this case, blood cells) pluripotent, simply by bathing them in acid for under a half-hour. The pluripotent cells were generated in a mouse model, and when injected into a mouse embryo, contributed to all three of the developing embryo's tissue-types. They also exhibited stem-cell like growth capacity when cultivated with growth factors. The team are calling their creation STAP stem-cells, for "stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency." The new method involved no nuclear transfer and no introduction of transcription factors.
If the method works in humans, it could be the key to practical regenerative medicine. A person in need of replacement pancreatic cells, for example, might be able to give blood or other tissue to scientists who could then, very quickly, create pluripotent cells from them, and then develop these into replacement tissue which would not be rejected by the recipients body.
This story in the New Scientist has a lot of excellent detail, but includes a side allegation that an unnamed collaborator of the researchers permitted some STAP cells to grow into "spherical clusters" and then implanted one of these into a mouse uterus. According to the story, a researcher's "understanding" was that the collaborator's experiment resulted in the creation of an embryo. The unnamed collaborator hasn't commented. This would be a big deal, as it would indicate that STAP stem-cells were actually STAT stem cells (totipotent, not just pluripotent), and it would constitute an embryonic cloning without nuclear transfer.