Some nerve! Now bypass stem cells

February 1st, 2012 - 3:44 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, Feb 1 (IANS) Scientists have successfully converted mouse skin cells directly into cells that become the three main parts of the nervous system, bypassing the stem cell stage, throwing up many new possibilities in the medical world.

This new study is a substantial advance over the previous paper in that it transforms the skin cells into neural precursor cells, as opposed to neurons.

While neural precursor cells can differentiate into neurons, they can also become the two other main cell types in the nervous system: astrocytes and oligodendrocytes.

The finding is an extension of a previous study by the same group from the Stanford University School of Medicine, showing that mouse and human skin cells can be turned into functional neurons or brain cells.

The multiple successes of the direct conversion method overrides the idea that pluripotency (the ability of stem cells to become nearly any cell) is necessary for a cell to transform from one type to another, the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reports.

“We are thrilled about the prospects for potential medical use of these cells,” said Marius Wernig, study co-author and assistant professor of pathology and member, Stanford’s Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine, according to a Stanford statement.

Beside their greater versatility, the newly derived neural precursor cells offer another advantage over neurons because they can be cultivated in large numbers in the lab, a feature critical for their long-term usefulness in transplantation or drug screening.

“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,” said Wernig, who co-authored the study with graduate student Ernesto Lujan.

-Indo-Asian News Service

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