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On transforming skin cells…into functioning brain cells

Every so often I come across some published
research that literally blows my mind with the possibility it provides. This
was one such occasion.  A remarkable
breakthrough has just been published in the journal Nature Biotechnology. Researchers from the Case Western Reserve
School of Medicine in Cleveland, Ohio, have discovered a technique that allows a
particular form of functional skin cell to be transformed into what are called
myelinating cells. These special brain cells produce myelin, the insulating
material used by neurons to increase the speed of transmission of electrical
impulses.

People who have multiple sclerosis (MS),
cerebral palsy (CP) and some very rare genetic disorders called leukodystrophies,
lose their myelinating cells, which cannot
normally be replaced.
 

This new technique could potentially become
an extremely valuable form of cell
therapy.
 

The beauty of the technique is that there is
an abundant supply of the particular skin cells called fibroblasts available,
which are used in a process called cellular programming, to turn them into the
precursors of the brain cells called oligodendrocytes. Importantly these
precursors have been shown to be capable of regenerating new myelin coatings
around nerves after being transplanted into mice.
Moreover the
researchers were able to produce literally billions of these special cells very
easily.
 

Previously this type of cellular therapy
relied on the use of foetal tissue or pluripotent stem cells, which was quite
limited. The findings of the Case Western team are very exciting because it
makes it feasible to offer fast and accessible access to functional myelin
generating cells.

The first step using mice has now been
accomplished. The next step is to show feasibility and safety in human cells. I can’t wait to hear how that research pans out.

Ref:

Fadi J Najm,
Angela M Lager, Anita Zaremba, Krysta Wyatt, Andrew V Caprariello, Daniel C
Factor, Robert T Karl, Tadao Maeda, Robert H Miller, Paul J Tesar. Transcription
factor–mediated reprogramming of fibroblasts to expandable, myelinogenic
oligodendrocyte progenitor
cells. Nature Biotechnology, 2013;
DOI:
10.1038/nbt.2561

Photo Credit:
<a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/37457859@N08/3442840086/”>Myelin Repair Foundation</a>
via
<a href=”http://compfight.com”>Compfight</a>
<a href=”http://www.flickr.com/help/general/#147″>cc</a>

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