Two years ago researchers at Lund University re-programmed human skin cells into dopamine-producing nerve cells, without having to go through the stem cell stage.
Those same researchers have now gone a step further and shown that it is possible to re-program both skin cells and support cells directly to nerve cells, in place inside the brain, a Lund release reported Tuesday.
"The research findings have the potential to open the way for alternatives to cell transplants in the future, which would remove previous obstacles to research, such as the difficulty of getting the brain to accept foreign cells, and the risk of tumor development," researcher Malin Parmar said.
In the research, genes designed to be activated or de-activated using a drugs were inserted into two types of human support cells naturally present in the brain known as fibroblasts and glia cells.
Once the researchers had transplanted the human cells into the brains of rats, the genes were activated using a drug in the animals' drinking water, with the result that the cells began to transform into nerve cells.
"We are now developing the technique so that it can be used to create new nerve cells that replace the function of damaged cells. Being able to carry out the re-programming in vivo makes it possible to imagine a future in which we form new cells directly in the human brain, without taking a detour via cell cultures and transplants," Parmar said.