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Human Skin Cells Converted Directly To Neurons

timothy posted more than 3 years ago | from the no-pesky-werewolf-stage dept.

Biotech 39

Dr. Eggman writes "Stanford's School of Medicine brings us an update in the latest achievements towards in-vitro neuron generation via redifferentiation of specialized cells (skin cells in this case.) This important progress follows on last year's success in inducing this change with mice skin cells. The importance of this line of research lies in that the process does not need to first de-differentiate the skin cells into a kind of stem cells known as induced pluripotent stem cells. By skipping this phase, the process avoids potential problems in the body's rejection of the iPS cells. Amazingly, the transformation occurs with the added presence of 4 proteins (one more protein than need to induce the effect in mice) over several weeks (compared to a few days in mice.) Research continues as the study highlights the significant differences in mice and human neural cells as well as the success rate of transformation (2-4% for human cells, 20% for mice.) The resultant cells aren't yet as capable as naturally derived neurons; generating less-robust electrical signals."

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"I'm thinking with MY SKIN" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36272882)

That'd sound great in a cheesy sci-fi movie.

Think again (1)

Opportunist (166417) | more than 3 years ago | (#36273574)

Every time you cut yourself you're prone to forgetting an important date.

Re:Think again (1)

rubycodez (864176) | more than 3 years ago | (#36274610)

how about if I cut myself *after* I forget an important date. Have to train and shape the neural network, after all.

Re:Think again (1)

mldi (1598123) | more than 3 years ago | (#36299490)

I like the idea more of someone getting a skin-graft and suddenly inheriting mad skillz.

Re:Think again (1)

mldi (1598123) | more than 3 years ago | (#36299538)

Replying to my own post, but think of the possibilities! Black market for skin grafts of highly skilled martial artists, pilots, etc. The army trains one person and a graft is given out to large numbers in the military. What a story!

Way too much trouble. (1)

olsmeister (1488789) | more than 3 years ago | (#36272946)

I just use purified neuron serum from my victims.


MOtisBeard (693145) | more than 3 years ago | (#36273010)

So can they turn skin cells directly into any kind of cell, or just neurons? 'Cause I'm thinking the old parody of MAKE.MONEY.FAST might be about to come true.

Woody Allen was right (2)

ka9dgx (72702) | more than 3 years ago | (#36273040)

In the Woody Allen movie, "The Sleeper", the "fearless leader" is recreated from cells cloned from his nose.... it's beginning to look like he was right.

Next thing we know, we'll find out that nuts are bad for us.

One drawback if you turn your skin to brains. (1)

mrmeval (662166) | more than 3 years ago | (#36273510)


Re:Woody Allen was right (1)

interkin3tic (1469267) | more than 3 years ago | (#36275348)

Technically, we're not to that point yet and this story is sorta going in the opposed direction. It was a few years ago when we found we could make skin cells revert back to a stem cell like state (induced pluripotent stem cells or IPSC). Pluripotent cells can make any type of cell. That's good for some things, but would not be good for therapy, like repairing a spinal cord injury. You don't want bone cells in your spinal cord. IPSC injected into your body would make teratomas, which are among the worst types of tumors.

Pluripotency means ability of one cell to make any cell type. Todipotency means the ability of one cell to make a whole organism. In humans, the fertilized egg is the only todipotent cell. The information needed to make any type of cell reside in all cells, the information needed to organize a -whole embryo- is not. It's not trivial to put that information in. For that reason, I think it's going to be a while before we can turn a skin cell directly into a todipotent cell that can make a whole clone.

I vaguely recall that scientists have taken mouse embryonic stem cells and made sperm and eggs. It shouldn't be too long before it's technically possible to take skin cells from someone, induce pluripotency, turn -those- cells into sperm and egg, fertilize themselves, and make an embryo that way. It wouldn't be a clone though, it would be a super-inbred embryo.

Re:Woody Allen was right (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36275538)


Re:Woody Allen was right (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36278748)

So what you're saying is the logical conclusion of this research is an affirmative response to "go fuck yourself"?

Re:Woody Allen was right (1)

Muad'Dave (255648) | more than 3 years ago | (#36297352)

You're not kidding. Teratomas [wikipedia.org] are strange and creepy [photobucket.com] , particularly the fetiform ones.

Think of the new things we can create ... (0)

Eadwacer (722852) | more than 3 years ago | (#36273064)

....if only we can convert other cells to electrons, and link them up.

you know who could REALLY use this? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36273134)


Re:you know who could REALLY use this? (1)

Opportunist (166417) | more than 3 years ago | (#36273588)

Well, I don't know if they'd want it, after all they seemed to be working on the perfection of the reverse, converting brain to skin.

But... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36273494)

We can't stop killing babies for their stem cells!

Re:But... (1)

Opportunist (166417) | more than 3 years ago | (#36273664)

I'm pretty sure every scientist in the field would gladly trade embryotic stem cells for this "artificial" kind, given they are so much less trouble. Nobody picketing their lab because they're "killing babies" (I'd guess not even the most fanatic religious zealot would go to those lengths for skin flakes), no personal "ethic" troubles for doing it, no huge paperworks (I'm pretty sure you get skin cells easier than embryos, hell, if everything fails, just forgo that anti-dandruff shampoo for a while and you're your own supplier!).

I don't know if the religious nuts think scientists are hellbent on killing unborn children for the sake of killing them (and the whole stem cell research is just a ruse to have a marketable reason why they want to kill them), but I kinda doubt that anyone out there trying to be "evil".

Re:But... (1)

Mindcontrolled (1388007) | more than 3 years ago | (#36273868)

They do think that way. I've seen it personally. I met people that sincerely believed that atheists know that god exists, but actively deny him, because they want to be evil. Scientist are just part of this god-denial conspiracy in their minds. Killing a couple of unborn kids before breakfast is pretty much a requirement to join the evil atheist club in their minds.

Re:But... (1)

Dekker3D (989692) | more than 3 years ago | (#36273972)

Now I'm scared.
Not of the atheists...
I'm scared of those christians: is that level of... "reduced intelligence", so to speak, infectuous? I hear it can be transferred verbally..

Re:But... (0)

Mindcontrolled (1388007) | more than 3 years ago | (#36273984)

Of course it can be transferred verbally - it is a highly contagious meme after all. Seriously, I heard stuff like "Even atheists admit that the bible is divinely inspired." The mind boggles.

Re:But... (3, Insightful)

Opportunist (166417) | more than 3 years ago | (#36275360)

Admit? At best I could not deny it, lacking data. Generally my view would be that God is not required to explain the universe. Combined with Occam's Razor, the conclusion would be that from a lack of need stems a lack of existence. If he exists, a condition we cannot test as far as I know, he is superfluous concerning our existence. So worship him if you feel like it, but it's proven that it is not a requirement for existence. Huh? Yes, it's proven. A lot of people existed before the first time God was worshiped and a lot of people exist who never heard of him, so it's pretty much established that you can exist without him.

And Zombies in (1)

DarkofPeace (1672314) | more than 3 years ago | (#36273512)


Re:And Zombies in (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36274342)

Looks like you were a little slow to say that.

Imagine (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36273514)

I want to convert all of my skin directly into a brain.

Re:Imagine (1)

Sulphur (1548251) | more than 3 years ago | (#36275230)

I want to convert all of my skin directly into a brain.

Do not sit on the neural network.

could they use more natural help from glial cells? (1)

ralphdaugherty (225648) | more than 3 years ago | (#36273976)

I was reading yesterday that there's a lot of cross signaling of growth factors between neurons and their surrounding glial cells such as myelin sheath Schwann cells.

I wouldn't expect very normal neuron development without the surrounding glial infrastructure they both induce and are influenced by.

But this is great progress, especially being able to avoid a step where bodily rejection takes place.

Re:could they use more natural help from glial cel (1)

artor3 (1344997) | more than 3 years ago | (#36274582)

There was an article in Nature a while back in which they showed that you can create microglial cells from stem cells (at least for mice). I know that's not the same as the macroglial cells you're referring to, and it's not as effective as transition directly from skin cells to the desired cells, but it is a step in the right direction.

Re:could they use more natural help from glial cel (1)

ralphdaugherty (225648) | more than 3 years ago | (#36274930)

yeah, sounds like it. Thanks for the info.

Re:could they use more natural help from glial cel (2)

repapetilto (1219852) | more than 3 years ago | (#36275544)

Normally the growth factors would cause a signal at the cell surface that eventually changed the amount of various neuronal genes being expressed.They skipped that step here by using viruses to insert extra copies of the neuronal genes into the skin cells. I should note that the neuronal genes are still present in the skin cells but are being suppressed. What this process does is insert extra, non-suppressed copies of those genes.

Re:could they use more natural help from glial cel (1)

ralphdaugherty (225648) | more than 3 years ago | (#36275854)

The summary only mentioning adding four proteins is really misleading then.

Unless they mean the extra unsuppressed genes from I take it real neuron cells expresses for among other things those additional proteins.

Re:could they use more natural help from glial cel (1)

repapetilto (1219852) | more than 3 years ago | (#36276270)

They used viruses to add four extra genes in as DNA. This DNA encoded the four proteins they mention. While these genes were already present in the skin cells, they were not active (ie not being used to make Proteins). One way to make the already present versions of the genes active could be adding the right mix of growth factors. Your body really doesnt want this to happen easily though, since it would easily lead to cancer.

Instead of that, they added in new copies of the genes designed so that they will be made into proteins by the skin cells. These proteins then go on to change whats going on in the cell to change it to look and act like a neuron.

What about other cells? (1)

VortexCortex (1117377) | more than 3 years ago | (#36275332)

What about regular fat cells? "This isn't a spare tire, it's a Beowulf cluster of Brain power!"

Perhaps it would be a smart replacement for silicone/saline in breast enlargement augmentation?

It may even give new meaning to: "The sexiest part of you is your Mind."

Re:What about other cells? (1)

jackbird (721605) | more than 3 years ago | (#36277776)

Of course, the motorboating concussions are less fun...

Paper Abstract and Link (1)

repapetilto (1219852) | more than 3 years ago | (#36275454)

Nature. 2011 May 26. [Epub ahead of print]
Induction of human neuronal cells by defined transcription factors.
Pang ZP, Yang N, Vierbuchen T, Ostermeier A, Fuentes DR, Yang TQ, Citri A, Sebastiano V, Marro S, Südhof TC, Wernig M.

1] Department of Molecular and Cellular Physiology, Stanford University School of Medicine, 265 Campus Drive, Stanford, California 94305, USA [2].

Somatic cell nuclear transfer, cell fusion, or expression of lineage-specific factors have been shown to induce cell-fate changes in diverse somatic cell types. We recently observed that forced expression of a combination of three transcription factors, Brn2 (also known as Pou3f2), Ascl1 and Myt1l, can efficiently convert mouse fibroblasts into functional induced neuronal (iN) cells. Here we show that the same three factors can generate functional neurons from human pluripotent stem cells as early as 6days after transgene activation. When combined with the basic helix-loop-helix transcription factor NeuroD1, these factors could also convert fetal and postnatal human fibroblasts into iN cells showing typical neuronal morphologies and expressing multiple neuronal markers, even after downregulation of the exogenous transcription factors. Importantly, the vast majority of human iN cells were able to generate action potentials and many matured to receive synaptic contacts when co-cultured with primary mouse cortical neurons. Our data demonstrate that non-neural human somatic cells, as well as pluripotent stem cells, can be converted directly into neurons by lineage-determining transcription factors. These methods may facilitate robust generation of patient-specific human neurons for in vitro disease modelling or future applications in regenerative medicine.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21617644 [nih.gov]

Aqua Teen (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36275870)

All I can think of is when they have to replace Carl's body with nothing but EYES


erroneus (253617) | more than 3 years ago | (#36276272)

The NERVE of some people! This really gets under my skin!

Waiting for my ovaries... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36276712)

As an MTF (transgendered woman), I know that science will make my dream of having my own ovaries and womb during my lifetime. Just hoping it doesn't come too late so that I can take care of my baby before being an old grandma...

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