Breakthrough process turns skin cells into protective brain cells

By Stephen C. Webster
Monday, April 15, 2013 11:45 EDT
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Two scientists look at a green liquid. Photo: Shutterstock.com, all rights reserved.
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A breakthrough cellular engineering process detailed in the latest edition of the journal Nature Biotechnology holds promise for people who suffer from multiple sclerosis and cerebral palsy.

Researchers explained that a new process allows them to take common skin cells and engineer them to morph into myelinating brain cells that help protect the nervous system and keep it function properly.

In diseases like multiple sclerosis, the myelin layer of cells that coat nerves gets destroyed, and scientists have worked for years trying to figure out how to make it regenerate.

Now, it looks like researchers at Ohio’s Case Western Reserve University have figured out how to do just that in rats, and they’re aiming to replicate their results with human cells next.

All it took was a little “cellular alchemy,” study author Paul Tesar explained in an advisory. “We are taking a readily accessible and abundant cell and completely switching its identity to become a highly valuable cell for therapy.”

The breakthrough will also alleviate the concerns of the anti-abortion community, in that it removes the need to obtain myelinating cells from fetal tissue.

“The progression of stem cell biology is providing opportunities for clinical translation that a decade ago would not have been possible,” Stanton Gerson, director of the National Center for Regenerative Medicine, added in the school’s announcement. “It is a real breakthrough.”

Photo: Shutterstock.com, all rights reserved.

Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster is the senior editor of Raw Story, and is based out of Austin, Texas. He previously worked as the associate editor of The Lone Star Iconoclast in Crawford, Texas, where he covered state politics and the peace movement’s resurgence at the start of the Iraq war. Webster has also contributed to publications such as True/Slant, Austin Monthly, The Dallas Business Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Weekly, The News Connection and others. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenCWebster.
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