January 30, 2012
Cloned Brain Cells Could Help MS, Parkinsons, Depression Patients
From the birthplace of Dolly the sheep comes another advancement in cloning, as scientists at Scotland's University of Edinburgh have reportedly created brain tissue from patients suffering from mental illnesses.
According to NewsCore reports, researchers at the university's Centre for Regenerative Medicine (CRM) have developed a method of taking a patient's skin sample, turning it into stem cells, and then directing them to grow into brain cells. They then study those man-made brain cells hoping to learn more about patients suffering from ailments such as bipolar depression and schizophrenia.
"A patient's neurons can tell us a great deal about the psychological conditions that affect them, but you cannot stick a needle in someone's brain and take out its cells," CRM Director Charles ffrench-Constant told Robin McKie of The Guardian on Saturday.
"However, we have found a way round that," he added. "Essentially, we are turning a person's skin cells into brain. We are making cells that were previously inaccessible. And we could do that in future for the liver, the heart and other organs on which it is very difficult to carry out biopsies."
In addition to mental illnesses, the scientists are looking for ways to treat neurological conditions such as multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease and motor neuron disease, McKie wrote. The former project is being led by Professor Andrew McIntosh of the Royal Edinburgh Hospital, while ffrench-Constant is heading up the latter.
"We are making different types of brain cells out of skin samples from people with schizophrenia and bipolar depression," McIntosh told the Guardian. "Once we have assembled these, we look at standard psychological medicines, such as lithium, to see how they affect these cells in the laboratory. After that, we can start to screen new medicines."
"Our lines of brain cells would become testing platforms for new drugs. We should be able to start that work in a couple of years," he continued, adding that previously scientists could only obtain test samples from patients who had already passed on, and in many cases those samples were contaminated by whatever disorder killed them and whatever medication they had been taking to treat their condition(s).
Meanwhile, ffrench-Constant will attempt to create brain cells from MS patients, hoping to determine why some patients can live many years with the ailment while others see their condition degenerate rapidly.
"We will take skin samples from MS patients whose condition has progressed quickly and others in whom it is not changing very much," he said, adding that if they "can find out the roots of the difference, we may be able to help patients."
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