Stem Cell Stage Bypassed in Skin Cell to Brain Cell Transformation

The stem cell stage was always thought to be a necessary step in the transformation of one type of cell into another, but new research from the Stanford University School of Medicine suggests that may not be the case. According to Medical News Today, scientists at the California school were able to successfully convert mouse skin cells directly into neural precursor cells, which then form the three main types of brain and nervous system cells.

“We’ve shown the cells can integrate into a mouse brain and produce a missing protein important for the conduction of electrical signal by the neurons,” said senior author Marius Wernig. “This is important because the mouse model we used mimics that of a human genetic brain disease.”

The same team had previously transformed mouse and human skin cells directly into functional neurons, but the new study is particularly exciting because of the possibilities neural precursor cells offer. While the cells can go on to become neurons, they can also differentiate into atrocytes and andoligodendrocytes, which maintain neurons and connect them to one another in order to transmit signals. Neural precursor cells are also easily stored in large numbers and better for lab work, the researchers noted.

If the implications of the research are correct and the stem cell stage is no longer necessary, controversial embryonic stem cell research may be needless. And not only would eliminating embryonic stem cell research avoid ethical questions, it would negate the need for stem cell patients to take drugs that stop their immune system from rejecting the foreign tissue. Wernig cautioned that further work is needed before these conclusions can be drawn, however. Researchers must still show that a similar cell conversion in humans is possible.

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Stem Cell Stage Bypassed in Skin Cell to Brain Cell Transformation

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