Published On: Tue, Apr 16th, 2013

Skin turned into brain cells in lab study

braincellsU.S. researchers said Sunday they have directly converted ordinary skin cells to the type of brain cells destroyed in patients with multiple sclerosis.

The research, published in the journal Nature Biotechnology, now enables “on demand” production of myelinating cells, which provide a vital sheath of insulation that protects neurons and enables the delivery of brain impulses to the rest of the body, said researchers at the Case Western Reserve University.

It involves directly converting fibroblasts, an abundant structural cell present in the skin and most organs, into oligodendrocytes, the type of cell responsible for myelinating the neurons of the brain, in mice.

“It’s ‘cellular alchemy,'” said Paul Tesar, assistant professor of genetics and genome sciences at Case Western Reserve School of Medicine and senior author of the study. “We are taking a readily accessible and abundant cell and completely switching its identity to become a highly valuable cell for therapy.”

In a process termed “cellular reprogramming,” the researchers manipulated the levels of three naturally occurring proteins to induce fibroblast cells to oligodendrocytes.

They rapidly generated billions of these reprogrammed cells and showed that they could regenerate new myelin coatings around nerves after being transplanted into mice in the study.

When oligodendrocytes are damaged or become dysfunctional in myelinating diseases, the insulating myelin coating that normally coats nerves is lost. A cure requires the myelin coating to be regenerated by replacement oligodendrocytes.

Until now, oligodendrocytes could only be obtained from fetal tissue or pluripotent stem cells. These techniques have been valuable, but with limitations, the researchers said

This initial study used mouse cells. The critical next step is to demonstrate feasibility and safety using human cells in a lab setting. If successful, the technique could have widespread therapeutic application to human myelin disorders.

Source: Xinhua

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