Scientists grow brain cells from human skin

Posted: February 13, 2012 at 12:58 pm

LONDON: British scientists are claiming a breakthrough after creating brain tissue from human skin.

The researchers have for the first time generated a crucial type of brain cells in the laboratory by reprogramming skin cells.

They say it could speed up the hunt for new treatments for conditions such as Alzheimer's disease, epilepsy and stroke.

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Until now it has only been possible to generate tissue from the cerebral cortex, the area of the brain where most serious neurological diseases occur, by using controversial embryonic stem cells, obtained by the destruction of an embryo. This has meant the supply of brain tissue available for research has been limited due to ethical concerns and limited availability.

Scientists at the University of Cambridge say that they have overcome this problem, showing for the first time that it is possible to re-program adult human skin cells so that they develop into neurons found in the cerebral cortex.

Initially, brain cells grown in this way could be used to help researchers gain a better understanding of how the brain develops and what goes wrong when it is affected by disease. They could also be used for screening new drug treatments.

Eventually, they hope the cells could be used to provide healthy tissue that can be implanted into patients to treat neurodegenerative diseases and brain damage.

Dr Rick Livesey, who led the research at the university's Gurdon Institute, said: ''The cerebral cortex makes up 75 per cent of the human brain. It is where all the important processes that make us human take place. It is, however, also the major place where disease can occur.

''We have been able to take reprogrammed skin cells so they develop into brain stem cells and then essentially replay brain development in the laboratory.

''We can study brain development and what goes wrong when it is affected by disease in a way we haven't been able to before. We see it as a major breakthrough in what will now be possible,'' said Dr Livesey, whose findings are published in the journal Nature Neuroscience.

The cerebral cortex is the part of the brain that is responsible for most of the high-level thought processes such as memory, language and consciousness.

Telegraph, London

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Scientists grow brain cells from human skin

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