August 5, 2011

Converting Human Cells into Brain Cells

(Ivanhoe Newswire) "“ A new method has been revealed to convert human cells into brain cells. By transforming adult skin cells into neurons that are capable of transmitting brain signals, scientist Sheng Ding, is marking one of the first documented experiments for transforming an adult human's skin cells into functioning brain cells.

"This work could have important ramifications for patients and families who suffer at the hands of neurodegenerative diseases such Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and Huntington's disease. Dr. Ding's latest research offers new hope for the process of developing medications for these diseases, as well as for the possibility of cell-replacement therapy to reduce the trauma of millions of people affected by these devastating and irreversible conditions," Lennart Mucke, M.D., director of neurological research at the Gladstone Institute of Neurological Disease, was quoted saying.

Many professionals in the science community consider the use of stem cells as the key to the future treatment and abolition of many diseases, including heart disease and diabetes. However, the use of embryonic stem cells is very controversial. Dr. Ding presented another method for avoiding the use of embryonic stem cells and created a new platform for fundamental studies of human disease. Rather than using models made in yeast, flies or mice for disease research, all cell-reprogramming technology allows human brain, heart and other cells to be created from the skin cells of patients with a specific disease. The new cells created from the skin cells contain a complete set of the genes that resulted in that disease -representing the potential of a far-superior human model for studying illnesses, drugs and other treatments. In the future, such reprogrammed skin cells could be used to test both drug safety and efficiency for a patient.

Dr. Ding used two genes and a microRNA to convert a skin sample from a 55-year-old woman directly into brain cells. MicroRNAs are tiny strands of genetic material that regulate almost every process in every cell of the body. The cells created by Dr. Ding's experiments exchanged the electrical impulses necessary for brain cells to communicate things such as thoughts and emotions. Using microRNA to reprogram cells is a safer and more efficient way than using the more common gene-modification approach. In following experiments, Dr. Ding hopes to rely only on microRNAs and pharmaceutical compounds to convert skin cells to brain cells, which should lead to a more efficient generation of cells for testing and regenerative purposes.
"This will help us avoid any genome modifications. These cells are not ready yet for transplantation. But this work removes some of the major technical hurdles to using reprogrammed cells to create transplant-ready cells for a host of diseases," Dr. Sheng Ding PhD, senior investigator at the Gladstone Institute of Cardiovascular Disease, was quoted saying.

SOURCE: Cell Stem Cell, August 4, 2011