Disease fight: turning skin cells to neurons

Posted: June 29, 2012 at 7:12 am

Disease fight: turning skin cells to neurons June 28th, 2012, 4:04 pm posted by Pat Brennan, science, environment editor

UC Irvine professor Leslie Thompson, with human brain image behind her. Photo by Daniel A. Anderson, UC Irvine.

Using stem cells derived from skin cells, scientists including a UC Irvine team say they have created human neurons that exhibit the effects of Huntingtons disease promising the possibility of testing treatments for the deadly disorder in a petri dish.

Their discovery not only sidesteps ethical issues surrounding the use of human embryonic stem cells, but offers the chance to produce far more diseased neurons, at various stages of disease progression, than ever have been available to researchers before.

This is a relatively new technique where you can reprogram an adult cell, in this case a skin cell, back to this early stem-cell stage, and then guide those into making neurons, said Leslie Thompson, a UC Irvine professor and a senior author of a study announcing the discovery that was published online Thursday.

Huntingtons disease is an inherited, neurodegenerative disorder that is always fatal. It typically strikes in middle age, gradually robbing its victims of the ability to walk and interfering with other basic brain functions.

Huntington's disease cells on their way to becoming neurons. Image courtesy Leslie Thompson, UC Irvine.

Its like Parkinsons in that its a movement disorder in this case, involuntary movements, and rigidity, Thompson said. You know what is going on, but parts of memory are being impaired; you have an impaired ability to walk, think, talk.

Victims typically die of the diseases effects falling, or choking during pneumonia and some especially severe mutations can strike young children. The disease affects about 30,000 people in the United States, and no treatments exist even to slow the onset of symptoms.

The scientists, including UCIs Leslie Lock and Peter Donovan, director of the Sue and Bill Gross Stem Cell Research Center, as well as others from universities around the country and in Italy and Great Britain, used a variety of cell lines to reveal the genetic underpinnings of Huntingtons.

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Disease fight: turning skin cells to neurons

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