Skin cells turned to brain cells
In California, U.S.A., researchers are celebrating a new breakthrough: they have turned skin cells into brain cells.
This involved a process similar to using stem cells to create new cells in the body.
Stem cells are cells that can turn into other types of body cells – eye cells, blood cells, bone cells, brain cells.
Previous studies involved turning skin cells into stem cells, as a sort of bridge procedure: skin cells are turned to stem cells, which are then turned to brain cells.
This method, however, often resulted in the activation of cancer genes.
The group from the Stanford University School of Medicine worked with mice and reported that they have been able to take them skin cells of the mice and reprogram them directly into brain cells without passing the stem cell stage.
They based their research on the knowledge that skin cells and brain cells both have the same genetic code, and only the difference in the interpretation of those codes creates the difference between the two cells. This interpretation is controlled by what the researchers called “transcription factors.”
By using a virus to infect the skin cells with transcription factors that are present in high levels in brain cells, the researchers were able to make 10% of the targeted skin cells turn to brain cells within three weeks.
Lead author Prof Marius Wernig said that his team was “thrilled about the prospects for potential medical use of the cells.” The new brain cells could be studied as a method for regenerating the damaged neurons of people who have sustained injuries.
The study, however, has so far been limited only to mouse cells. The technique has not yet been used on human skin cells.
This study has been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.