Neuron Glia interaction
Previously, stem cells were necessary to create human neurons. (Photo Credit: CC BY-ND/Mohammed Khazaei/Flickr)

Neurodegenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease rob millions of of their quality of life. While cures remain outside the current reach of medical science, The Independent reports that a new discovery may help turn the tide. Scientists have successfully made neurons from human skin.

A big step closer to the cure?

In a major step forward for regenerative medicine, pathologist Dr. Gerald Crabtree and researchers at Stanford University Medical Center in Palo Alto, Calif., used skin cells from a 30-year-old woman to create functional, mature nerve cells very similar to neurons found in the brain. The process bypasses the use of stem cells by adding strands of RNA (ribonucleic acid) to the skin cell sample.

Crabtree believes this neuron from skin cell discovery will lead to an explosion of new brain cell creations to treat Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and neurological diseases. Regenerating parts of the brain ravaged by Alzheimer’s or spine destroyed by Parkinson’s without the requirement of human stem cells is an electric prospect.

“A major problem in neurobiology has been the lack of a good human model. Neurons aren’t like blood. They’re not something people want to give up,” Crabtree said.

Pluripotent stem cells now optional

Previously, scientists took genetically modified skin cells and converted them into pluripotent stem cells, which resemble embryonic stem cells. From there, producing neurons is possible. According to Crabtree’s publication in the journal Nature, the great leap forward came from adding just “two shorts strands of RNA.”

“It was very weird. We were astounded,” said Crabtree. “What we made are neurons that are characteristic of the frontal cortex (of the brain) – what you’d imagine would be the most difficult (nerve cells) to make. They’re the ones we think with, that we use to put two things together and see the connections, not the ones involved in evolutionary older emotional responses.”

While neuron cells produced in this manner are a long way from being directly implanted into the brains and spines of patients, the possibilities lab tests will likely uncover are encouraging, said Crabtree.

The life and death of neuron cells

Sources

The Independent: http://ind.pn/qPkRPk

Induced pluripotent stem cell Wiki: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Induced_pluripotent_stem_cell

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