Aug 022011
 
Embryonic Stem Cells. (A) shows hESCs. (B) sho...

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A scientist at the Gladstone Institutes has discovered a novel way to convert human skin cells into brain cells, advancing medicine and human health by offering new hope for regenerative medicine and personalized drug discovery and development.

In a paper being published online July 28 in the scientific journal Cell Stem Cell, Sheng Ding, PhD, reveals efficient and robust methods for transforming adult skin cells into neurons that are capable of transmitting brain signals, marking one of the first documented experiments for transforming an adult human’s skin cells into functioning brain cells.

“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,” said Lennart Mucke, MD, who directs neurological research at Gladstone. “Dr. Ding’s latest research offers new hope for the process of developing medications for these diseases, as well as for the possibility of cell-replacement therapy to reduce the trauma of millions of people affected by these devastating and irreversible conditions.”

The work was done in collaboration with Stuart Lipton, M.D., Ph.D., who directs the Del E. Webb Neuroscience, Aging and Stem Cell Research Center at Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute. Dr. Ding, one of the world’s leading chemical biologists in stem-cell science, earlier this year joined Gladstone and the faculty at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF), as a professor of pharmaceutical chemistry. Gladstone, which is affiliated with UCSF, is a leading and independent biomedical-research organization that is using stem-cell research to advance its work in its three major areas of focus: cardiovascular disease, neurodegenerative disease and viral infections.

Dr. Ding’s work builds on the cell-reprogramming work of another Gladstone scientist, Senior Investigator Shinya Yamanaka, MD, PhD. Dr. Yamanaka’s 2006 discovery of a way to turn adult skin cells into cells that act like embryonic stem cells has radically advanced the fields of cell biology and stem-cell research.

Embryonic stem cells — “pluripotent” cells that can develop into any type of cell in the human body — hold tremendous promise for regenerative medicine, in which damaged organs and tissues can be replaced or repaired. Many in the science community consider the use of stem cells to be key to the future treatment and eradication of a number of diseases, including heart disease and diabetes. But the use of embryonic stem cells is controversial — which is one reason why Dr. Yamanaka’s discovery of an alternate way to obtain human stem cells, without the use of embryos, is so important.

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