Scientists have successfully converted skin cells into brain cells. This revolutionary development saw the transformation of normal skin cells in mice into "cells which develop into the main components of the brain" and has been hailed as breakthrough.
The research was conducted by a research group from the Stanford University School of Medicine in California. The research group published their results online in the January edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The scientists were able to take the skin cells of mice and change them into neural precursor cells, which themselves form the basis for three other types of cells in the brain - neurons, astrocytes and oligodendrocytes.
The team skipped the median stem-cell stage in the cell’s development to get fully mature brain cells.
Previously, the same team had transformed both human and mouse skin cells into functioning neurons. The present study is an improvement on the previous experiment, as this time the scientists were able to create the aforementioned neural precursor cells, about which the team said they were quite “thrilled.”
The team was also able to achieve this result without resorting to the induced stem cell method, which creates stem cells out of skin cells, but often entails potential cancer risks.
To create the cells, the team infected embryonic skin cells of mice with a virus that carried the three transcription factors required to form brain ells. Brain and skin cells basically contain the same genetic information, but this information is coded differently, controlled by a set of transcription factors. By introducing them into skin cells, the scientists were able to create brain cells and this was seen both in the lab as well as when they were injected into the mice, and after 10 weeks, the neural precursor cells developed into oligodendroytes and "had begun to coat the mice's nerve fibers with myelin.’
By the method used, the researchers were able to create a very large number of brain cells, especially helpful if the cells are to be used in therapy.
Speaking about the experiment, lead researcher, Professor Marius Wernig, said, "We are thrilled about the prospects for potential medical use of these cells. We've shown the cells can integrate into a mouse brain and produce a missing protein important for the conduction of electrical signal by the neurons,” adding, "More work needs to be done to generate similar cells from human skin cells and assess their safety and efficacy."
The Stanford team added that the method was not ready at the moment for human testing, but represents potential medical breakthroughs for the treatment of patients who have suffered strokes, blindness and maybe even Alzheimer’s.