Mouse tissue made into brain cells2nd February 2010
Researchers in the US have managed to turn mouse tissue into mouse brain cells.
The finding differs from previous research, which used a type of stem cell that could become any other cell.
The researchers were able to turn adult mouse skin cells, taken from the tails of the mice, into neurons, without the help of induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS).
The method the researchers used was also quicker than some stem cell methods.
The scientists are currently engaged in converting their results into something than can be done in human trials.
However, the finding is also a significant development for scientists wishing to understand how some cells radically transform themselves.
For researchers in cellular biology, the current study shows that the once highly controversial embryonic stem cell (ESC), as well as the iPS, may be unnecessary routes of cell transformation.
For the purposes of the study, the scientists needed to identify three important genes that would help them convert skin cells into neurons.
Basing themselves on previous research, they identified 19 possible genes aiding the development of the rodents' brains.
Using a virus that can act as a carrier for inserting genes, the researchers made the skin cells turn into nerve cells.
The transformation process took 32 days.
After identifying the three genes that caused the transformation process to happen, the team was able to reduce the conversion time to about one week.
Although the number of rejections was quite high, at about four out of five, the same process of cell transformation is rejected by about 98% of iPS.
In the end, the new neurons functioned exactly as expected, developing synaptic connections with the other neurons around them.
However, none of the transformed cells were inserted into in the bodies of the test mice.
If scientists were able to insert the finished neurons into adult brains, the method could be used to treat diseases such as Parkinson's disease.
However, not all scientists believe that the new method will replace current ESC- and iPS- based methods.
Sheng Ding, a cell biologist from the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California, said that the new approach would carry a risk for the patient, if it were applicable in humans.
He said that using a virus to deliver the transform the genetic material of the cell would also make it vulnerable to tumours, and that researchers would eventually have to think of something else.
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