[A version of this item appears in: Dementia: the Latest Evidence Newsletter (RWHT), Volume 2 Issue 1, August 2011].
The July 14th 2011 issue of The Independent reported that scientists at Stanford University in California have learned how to convert human skin tissue into functioning nerve cells, without an intermediate stem-cell stage. This was achieved by the addition of a few short strands of microRNA. The resulting neurons were similar to those found in the frontal cortex, i.e. the part of the brain involved in thinking and reasoning. Some of these resembled “inhibitory” neurons, cells which control the activity of other neurons. This new procedure may assist scientists to study the development and behaviour of neurons more easily in the future, and facilitate the development and testing of treatments in the laboratory for Alzheimer’s and other brain diseases.
Note: This research is at an early stage, so any potential application in the prevention or treatment of brain disease is, as yet, unproven. It is unclear whether converted neurons grown in the laboratory might be used to mimic or replace diseased or abnormal cells in living human brains. More research will be necessary, clearly.
Brain cells made from human skin. London: NHS Choices, July 14th 2011.
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Yoo, AS. Sun, AX. [and] Li, L. [et al] (2011). MicroRNA-mediated conversion of human fibroblasts to neurons. Nature, July 13th 2011. (Click here to view the PubMed abstract).