Skin cells morphed into brain cells
Researchers from Case Western Reserve School of Medicine may have found a way to reprogram human skin cells to become functioning brain cells. And this technique could be a major advance in treatment of conditions related to brain damage, such as multiple sclerosis.
When a person gets multiple sclerosis, for instance, the body begins to attack its own brain cells, destroying the protective "sheath" that surrounds the neurons in the brain. By destroying the sheath cells, the nerve is left without its protective layer, making it vulnerable. For patients with MS, there is no way to regenerate the sheath brain cells.
But the technique developed at Case Western would enable "on demand" production of insulating brain cells, known as myelinating cells. The reprogramming process involves the conversion of fibroblasts - a skin cell – into oligodendrocytes – the cells most responsible for protecting neurons in the brain. Previously, researchers had turned to fetal tissue and other stem cells for hope, though these techniques have limitations. With this new skin cell conversion, scientists could have a nearly unlimited supply of source material.
In addition to its application for multiple sclerosis, this new technique could also be used for cerebral palsy and a genetic disease called leukodystrophies, among other conditions.