Human skin cells transformed into functional brain cells

Researcher successfully transforms adult human skin cells into functional brain cells, providing further evidence that it is possible to generate new neurons.

There is still more evidence of the ability to create new brain cells: Dr. Sheng Ding, of the Gladstone Institute, has discovered an efficient way to transform adult human skills cells into neurons.  The neurons created by Dr. Ding actually exchanged the electrical implulses that brain cells use to communicate thoughts and emotions.  Ding’s research has enormous significance for regenerative medicine for individuals suffering from neurodegenerative diseases.  Ding’s transformation of adult human skin cells into neurons is one of the first documented experiments of its kind.

Dr. Lennart Mucke, Director of Neurological Research at Gladstone, elaborated, “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.”

Ding’s research builds upon that of another Gladstone Institute scientist, Senior Investigator Shinya Yamanaka, MD, PhD.  Dr. Yamanaka discovered a mechanism by which one could turn adult skin cells into cells that behaved like embryonic stem cells.  Embryonic cells can develop into any type of cell in the human body and possess vast potential for regenerative medicine.  Dr. Ding’s specific extension of Dr. Yamanaka’s findings explicitly shows the ability to create functioning brain cells from adult human skin cells. As embryonic stem cells remain controversial, human skin cells’ ability to be transformed into functional neurons is promising.

Dr. Ding created the functional neurons from two genes and a microRNA from a 55-year-old woman.  His successful manipulation of microRNA circumvents the issue of genome modification, which is not as safe or effective as using microRNA.

Ding explained, “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.”


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