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Scientists turn skin cells into nerves

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    Scientists turn skin cells into nerves

    Tuesday, 30 April, 2002, 20:01 GMT 21:01 UK

    Scientists turn skin cells into nerves
    By Richard Black
    World Service science correspondent

    Scientists in Norway have for the first time managed to turn one sort of human cell into another.

    Conventional scientific wisdom has been once a skin cell, always a skin cell.
    All the evidence has been that nerve cells can only produce other nerve cells, muscle cells only produce other muscle cells, and so on.

    But researchers at the University of Oslo have turned the conventional view on its head.

    'New treatments'

    Writing in the journal Nature Biotechnology, the scientists describe how they used chemicals found in the body to 're-program' skin cells, and turn them into nerves and immune cells.

    They suggest their research could eventually lead to new treatments for diseases such as diabetes, stroke and Parkinson's without the need for stem cells and the ethical problems associated with them.

    They took skin cells and grew them in liquid containing chemicals which are made by nerves.

    The skin cells started to look like nerves, and started activating genes which nerves use.

    When the cells divided, the new cells still looked like nerves.
    Similar changes occurred when the researchers put skin cells in with chemicals made by immune cells.


    Although they have not yet checked that the new, re-programmed skin cells function as nerves or immune cells, they say their discovery potentially points the way to new medical treatments which carry the same promise as stem cell treatments without the ethical complications.

    If ordinary adult cells really can be re-programmed in this way, there is no reason in theory why cells from skin or hair could not eventually be used to replace damaged brain tissue, or rebuild a defective organ.

    Other researchers have described the finding as 'exciting', though emphasising that any medical treatments lie in the future.

    The Oslo researchers plan to check how well their new cells function.

    Other scientists will doubtless be trying to replicate these early but exciting findings.

    Abstract from Nature Biotechnology

    Reprogramming fibroblasts to express T-cell functions using cell extracts

    Anne-Mari Håkelien1, 3, Helga B. Landsverk1, James M. Robl3, Bjørn S. Skålhegg2 & Philippe Collas1, 3

    1. Institute of Medical Biochemistry, P.O. Box 1112, Blindern, University of Oslo, Oslo 0317, Norwayand
    2. Institute for Nutrition Research, P.O. Box 1046 Blindern, University of Oslo, Oslo 0317, Norway.
    3. Nucleotech LLC, 33 Riverside Avenue, Westport, CT 06880.
    Correspondence should be addressed to P Collas. e-mail:

    We demonstrate here the functional reprogramming of a somatic cell using a nuclear and cytoplasmic extract derived from another somatic cell type. Reprogramming of 293T fibroblasts in an extract from primary human T cells or from a transformed T-cell line is evidenced by nuclear uptake and assembly of transcription factors, induction of activity of a chromatin remodeling complex, histone acetylation, and activation of lymphoid cell-specific genes. Reprogrammed cells express T cell-specific receptors and assemble the interleukin-2 receptor in response to T cell receptor-CD3 (TCR-CD3) complex stimulation. Reprogrammed primary skin fibroblasts also express T cell-specific antigens. After exposure to a neuronal precursor extract, 293T fibroblasts express a neurofilament protein and extend neurite-like outgrowths. In vitro reprogramming of differentiated somatic cells creates possibilities for producing isogenic replacement cells for therapeutic applications.null


      One of the hottest areas of research today is the discovery and demonstration of nuclear factors that cause cells to transform from one type to another. This research is important not only because it provides a potential avenue towards generating stem cells and other cells from regular cells of our body (all our cells have all or most our genes and it is just a matter of turning the right genes on and off). This process, however, is not a slam-dunk. Cells possess many powerful mechanisms for preventing such transformation. After all, transformation of cells is the root of cancer. Just because we may have discovered a factor or two that cause a cell to display certain neuronal markers does not necessarily mean that the cell have all the features of neurons. Likewise, it is not clear that such cells will have the capability to differentiate into the specialized neurons that are necessary to carry out specific functions that neurons routinely do, such as being motoneurons or inhibitory interneurons.

      Programming these cells to age and die appropriately is another problem that many laboratories are working on. An immortal cell, i.e. a cell that does not age and continues to produce new cells of different kinds, may be a stem cell in some circumstances but a cancer cell in other circumstances. The creation of a "super-cell" that never dies and that continually produces new cells may be possible but perhaps not desirable. At the present, we know enough to be dangerous but not enough to be useful.



        Posted earlier


          See the link below for Dr. Young's response to this article:

          [This message was edited by seneca on May 04, 2002 at 06:50 PM.]