A single genetic tweak is all that is needed to turn ordinary skin cells into functioning brain cells
The research could help to treat Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and other brain diseases.
Working in the laboratory, US scientists transferred a single gene called Sox2 into both mouse and human skin cells.
Within days the cells transformed themselves into early-stage brain stem cells.
These ‘induced neural stem cells’ (iNSCs) then began to self-renew and mature, eventually becoming neurons capable of transmitting electrical signals.
In less than a month the cells had developed neural networks. Transplanted into mouse brains, they functioned without any adverse side effects, such as tumour growth.
Lead researcher Dr Yadong Huang, from the Gladstone Institutes in San Francisco, California, said: ‘Many drug candidates, especially those developed for neurodegenerative diseases, fail in clinical trials because current models don’t accurately predict the drug’s effects on the human brain.
‘Human neurons, derived from re-engineered skin cells, could help assess the efficacy and safety of these drugs, thereby reducing risks and resources associated with human trials.’
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