Skin cells turned into brain cells

July 28, 2011 at 9:13 PM
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SAN FRANCISCO, July 28 (UPI) -- Researchers in California say they've discovered a method of converting human skin cells into brain cells, offering new hope for regenerative medicine.

In an article in the journal Cell Stem Cell, Sheng Ding, a scientist at the Gladstone Institutes in San Francisco, reported on a way of transforming adult skin cells into neurons that are capable of transmitting brain signals, a Gladstone release reported Thursday.

"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," Lennart Mucke, director of neurological research at Gladstone, said.

Ding's work builds on the cell-reprogramming work of another Gladstone scientist, Shinya Yamanaka, who in 2006 discovered a way to turn adult skin cells into cells that act like embryonic stem cells.

Ding used two genes and a microRNA to convert a skin sample from a 55-year-old woman directly into brain cells that exchanged the electrical impulses necessary for such cells to communicate with each other.

"These cells are not ready yet for transplantation," Ding said. "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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