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Biotech Medicine

Neurons Created Directly From Skin Cells 231

Posted by timothy
from the largest-organ-of-the-body dept.
alx5000 writes "The Times is running a story about a neurologic breakthrough that could revolutionise treatments for conditions such as Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's: Neurons have been created directly from skin cells for the first time. Quoting neurobiologist Professor Jack Price: 'This suggests that there are no great rules — you can reprogramme anything into anything else.' The article also points out that this method could work around the ethical issues surrounding embryonic stem-cell research."
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Neurons Created Directly From Skin Cells

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  • So that's why they cut of the foreskin.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Ukab the Great (87152)

      If your brain was repaired with foreskin neurons, someone could call you smeghead and it wouldn't be an insult.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      So that's why they cut of the foreskin.

      Actually, yes. The foreskin contains about 90% of the nerve endings on the penis. It's rather barbaric that this country is one of the few in the western world that routinely mutilates male anatomy -- many parents often not even knowing why it's done, only that everybody else does it. more info [indra.com]. For the very few men that have been circumsized as an adult and had an opportunity to experience sex both ways -- they say that sex is very disappointing after. Some become suicidally depressed.

      • by jgtg32a (1173373)

        Right, because the brain of a baby isn't going to repurpose those neurons in the brain for the surrounding area, you know the rest of the penis.
        I don't remember exactly what it's called but it is closely related to phantom limb, it may not work out so well for an adult but in a baby's brain it'll be fine.

        • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

          by negRo_slim (636783)
          It's not only neurons and nerve endings but the very real fact it's going to look like a loose old sock uncut.
          • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

            by DrGamez (1134281)
            And your feet look weird, lets shave off that ugly pinky toe. And why do we have earlobes if we aren't going to wear anything there? Snip those as well. You're saying parts of the human body look weird, so we should take them off before the person can say otherwise - got it.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Kozz (7764)

        Actually, yes. The foreskin contains about 90% of the nerve endings on the penis. It's rather barbaric that this country is one of the few in the western world that routinely mutilates male anatomy -- many parents often not even knowing why it's done, only that everybody else does it. more info [indra.com].

        Read, please. [wikipedia.org] "Barbaric" and "mutilate" are highly emotionally charged words. I'm a father. I've got two sons. I was circ'ed as an infant, as were both of my boys. I asked all the questions -- is it necessary, is it recommended, why or why not, etc. I decided to go ahead, and I know exactly why I made that choice based on scientific data. If someone else is informed of the scientific data and chooses against circumcision, I fully respect that and have no problem with it. I can tell you that the chi

        • by MartinSchou (1360093) on Thursday January 28, 2010 @07:51PM (#30943638)

          Why not let your sons decide if they want to be circumcised? Why force what is essentially either plastic surgery or an amputation onto an infant?

          I am a firm believer in personal freedom. If adults want to be circumcised, I see no reasons they shouldn't be allowed to be, whether they are male or female. But doing it to an infant ... that's a line I'm very much against.

          • Because when the kid is old enough to decide to get circumcised, he will want it to have happened when he was an infant, while if he is circumcised he won't know what he is missing. Choosing to circumcise is thus the easy choice despite its irreversibility; and parents will make many more arbitrary yet momentous decisions for their children.
          • There should be no reason we are forcing Jewish/Muslim genital mutilation on children. For one, it tortures the infant. It's a very unnecessary and painful procedure, it's strange that you can't torture children with unneeded electrical shocks or other abuse yet you can slice baby genitals and get away with it under the guise of "cosmetics."

            • by Trogre (513942)

              In this culture of regular hygienic bathing you're absolutely correct. But send your boys off to war, or any other situation where regular washing isn't an option and see how the uncircumcised manage.

          • by Kozz (7764)

            Fuck... "plastic surgery" suggests my motivation was cosmetic. Not!

            "Amputation"? Seems like yet another charged word.

        • by Tenek (738297) on Thursday January 28, 2010 @08:04PM (#30943778)
          I'm a mother. I've got two daughters. I was circ'ed as a girl, as were both of my daughters. I asked all the questions -- is it necessary, is it recommended, why or why not, etc. I decided to go ahead and I know exactly why I made that choice based on scientific data. If someone else is informed of the scientific data and chooses against circumcision, I fully respect that and have no problem with it. I can tell you that the child displayed little evidence of pain, as I was right there with the doc as it was done, and it heals quite quickly. And no, not "everybody else" does it. The number of uncircumcised females in the US is increasing, actually. You might find the numbers surprising if you have time to look it up.
          • by NiteShaed (315799)

            Gee, didn't take long for this to come out. Do you really see the removal of a girl's clitoris and possibly labia as being analogous to removing the foreskin? I was circumcised, and I can assure you I enjoy sex just fine. Is it possible that it would be even better had I not been circumcised? Maybe, but I have a hard time envisioning how it could be, cause it's pretty frackin' great as-is. I doubt a woman who's had her clitoris removed would have a similar attitude towards sex.

            Please don't trivialize t

          • by Kozz (7764)

            If the penis and vagina were indistinguishable in form and function, you might have a point. But reversing the genders of my statement has got to be the most absurd counterpoint in the whole thread.

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by sexconker (1179573)

          I asked all the questions

          And did you get the real answers?

          is it necessary

          No, it is unnecessary

          is it recommended

          Yes, it is recommended

          why

          Because they can charge you for it, and then sell the foreskin.

          You made the choice based on scientific data?
          Which data? The data showing almost zero correlation between circumcision and reduced health risks?

          It's mutilation. It's wrong. It should be illegal.

          • by Kozz (7764)

            SELL the foreskin? Sounds like a conspiracy theory to me. These procedures took place at a highly accredited hospital by a pediatrician chosen by myself and my wife, under my observation. Not saying it's not possible, but seems extremely unlikely.

            Zero correlation? You must be citing only the studies that support your position.

            Mutilation? That's pretty extreme language. If the procedure were taking place on a different part of the body (but for similarly supported reasons), I suppose you wouldn't objec

        • by BlueParrot (965239) on Friday January 29, 2010 @05:47AM (#30947360)

          I asked all the questions -- is it necessary, is it recommended, why or why not, etc.

          Well here is one you did not consider. About one in every few thousand babies born is transsexual. That is, the neurological gender of their brain does not match the apparent sex of their body. Typically these people will desire surgical "correction" of their genitals latter in life, and availability of skin is one of the key variables that impact the outcome. Now I realize this is a rare occurrence, but it does happen, and since I'm transsexual myself and thus know just how shit it can be, I can only hope that neither of your sons will turn out to be transsexual. Then again, with sufficiently many babies being circ'd it follows that it will happen to some.

          I also imagine it may have an impact on other types of re-constructive surgery, should your sons ever have the misfortune of being hurt in an accident or something.

      • The foreskin contains about 90% of the nerve endings on the penis.

        So I'd have more nerves to stimulate down there, and be even less than a one minute man if I hadn't been circumsized? Thanks Mom and Dad!

    • I wonder if that is the problem Tiger Woods has. He obviously was thinking with the wrong head.

      • by grcumb (781340)

        I wonder if that is the problem Tiger Woods has. He obviously was thinking with the wrong head.

        Exactly. He used his wood when he really needed a driver.

  • That's awesome! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by stakovahflow (1660677) on Thursday January 28, 2010 @05:58PM (#30942108)

    I'm happy for those with MS & Macular Degeneration...
    There is Hope!

    (Just not the "Obama" kind of hope...)

    I'm curious...

    Is this possibly a cure for Alzheimers, as well?

    • Does this mean I can consume as much alcohol as I like now and let my doctor in the future grow back my brain cells?

      I'll drink to that.

    • Re:That's awesome! (Score:5, Informative)

      by wizardforce (1005805) on Thursday January 28, 2010 @06:29PM (#30942602) Journal

      Is this possibly a cure for Alzheimers, as well?

      No. The beta-amyloid plaques that damage and ultimately kill bain cells would still be present. The plaques themselves must be destroyed, not just throw billions of new neurons at the problem.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Jon Taylor (1086)

        If the beta-amyloid plaques do ultimately kill the brain cells, what could be gained by removing them? AFAIK the only decent route out and away from Alzheimer's is to synthesize replacement brain tissue via new neurons AND new glial cells, and then somehow retrain the brain to use the new nervous tissue to 'route around' the damaged areas. Stroke victims often undergo years of intensive retraining in order to relearn how to walk and talk, etc., which shows that the retraining approach works in principle t

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Hurricane78 (562437)

      I’m happy for those with MS & Macular Degeneration...

      Yes. MS is a really ugly disease. You get this colorful “buttons” all over the surface, and it gets harder and harder to to basic stuff. You basically become a dumbed-down zombie after a time, unable to achieve anything. Locked down in your cage of point and click on Playmobil interfaces giving you macular degeneration.
      Thank god for Linux.

  • Cheers! (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 28, 2010 @06:03PM (#30942210)

    Neurons have been created directly from skin cells for the first time.

    This research counters all the arguments that people shouldn't do drugs because they kill brain cells. Now that we know how to create new brain cells, there is no excuse for not being stoned. And bike riders can now throw away there helmets. Science brings freedom back to democracy.

  • by mafian911 (1270834) on Thursday January 28, 2010 @06:15PM (#30942384)
    ...until this technology can be used to regrow luscious locks of hair for balding people? Just asking... for a friend... .
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by interkin3tic (1469267)

      I could be wrong, but I think I remember hearing that male pattern baldness wasn't caused by a loss of hair follicle stem cells, it was caused by a loss of signaling in the niche the hair cells reside in.

      I guess it's possible that induced pluripotent stem cells could be used to make new scalp, including the niches, and then you could put that on, essentially resetting the clock so you'd have 20 or so more years of hair.

      (Disclaimer, I heard a seminar on baldness and stem cells over a year ago, so that could

  • by rev_sanchez (691443) on Thursday January 28, 2010 @06:22PM (#30942490)
    Sick people don't have money because they spend it all on hospitals and medicine but horny old fat people have tons of money. If Dr. Jack wants some serious grant money he'd better try to turn fat cells in boner cells. He can use some of that cash to help him make Michael J. Fox less shaky and hell, why not give him a giant wang while he's at it.

    He'd be great in a commercial, "Hi, I'm Michael J. Fox. You may have noticed that I'm a lot less shaky these days and I also have a giant wang now. I owe it all to Dr. Jack." Boom! Instant Nobel Prize.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by couchslug (175151)

      "horny old fat people have tons of money."

      This "money" of which you speak, when do I get it?

  • by LockeOnLogic (723968) on Thursday January 28, 2010 @06:23PM (#30942498)
    There are no "workarounds" in the need for embryonic stem cells. Each approach and method of stem cell generation have their respective strengths and weaknesses
    • by amiga3D (567632) on Thursday January 28, 2010 @06:38PM (#30942778)
      Really now. If what these guys are saying is true and any cells can be reprogrammed. What's the big benefit of harvesting embryo's?
      • It encourages an evil science and evil men. Evil men grow nice, dark, slicked mustaches. QED, harvesting babies for their stem cells increases the mustache:nonmustache ratio in the world. Therefore, it benefits mankind.

        =P
      • by TubeSteak (669689) on Thursday January 28, 2010 @07:16PM (#30943264) Journal

        Really now. If what these guys are saying is true and any cells can be reprogrammed. What's the big benefit of harvesting embryo's?

        What's the big benefit of incinerating them as medical waste?

        Medical ethics and Religious ethics should remain separate. Point in case:
        Go back a few hundred years and the study of anatomy was called "desecrating a corpse".
        Our monkey curiosity has gotten us this far, lets not be arbitrary about what we keep doing with it.

      • What's the big benefit of harvesting embryo's?

        A man's gotta have hobbies.

        That, and they still are good for research. If you want to study human cell biology, like how the embryo makes liver cells initially, this is an easier way.

    • by jgtg32a (1173373) on Thursday January 28, 2010 @06:49PM (#30942946)

      I'm sorry there was a "need" for embryonic stem cells? Was there a break through that I missed? I was under the impression that embryonic cells would be great because they can be turned into anything, and are ready to go right after they are harvested, but they have a very high rejection rate and have been known to introduce other problems.
       
      That's why all techniques using stem cells use adult stem cells.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by abigor (540274)

        Yes, apparently there was a bunch of stuff that you missed. Don't worry about it though.

    • Is this because of Real Science concerns or just because there is a group of people who don't like embryonic stem cells for religious reasons.

      If you can get your research done without a bunch of rabid bible thumpers yelling at you... All the better...

      If you are pushing continuing the process because of political reasons or because you just don't want to loose then it isn't science.

    • There are no "workarounds" in the need for embryonic stem cells. Each approach and method of stem cell generation have their respective strengths and weaknesses

      What "need" for embryonic stem cells? Can you tell me of one successful therapeutic use for embryonic stem cells?

  • by Falstaft (847466) on Thursday January 28, 2010 @06:31PM (#30942644)
    ...but your brain?
  • Emphasis on directly, we've been able to coax human adult somatic cells to become pluripotent stem cells since 2007. The "ethical issues" are pretty much old news, bringing it up almost feels like troll bait. TFA suggests that these cells are much less prone to cancer than iPSCs, which seems like a rather important bit the summary omitted.
  • Religious issue (Score:4, Insightful)

    by cytoman (792326) on Thursday January 28, 2010 @06:45PM (#30942888)

    The article also points out that this method could work around the ethical issues surrounding embryonic stem-cell research.

    This is more a religious issue rather than ethical - much like the pro-choice and anti-choice debate. Same people are anti-stem cell as those who are anti-choice.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by jgtg32a (1173373)

      I'm against abortion and I'm for stem cells, just not the embryonic variety

    • Re:Religious issue (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Archangel Michael (180766) on Thursday January 28, 2010 @07:39PM (#30943526) Journal

      Your choice of words "Choice" and "Anti Choice" give insight into who's choice you give deference to. Last time I checked, the babies weren't given a choice.

      And at what time to you "choose" to stop calling it "fetal tissue" and start calling it a "baby" (human, person or otherwise)??

      How come you didn't call it "Pro-Life" and "Pro-death" ?? By simply choosing your words, you've clearly tried to frame the "choice" into something more palatable to your feelings.

      Here's my challenge to you. Stop calling it "Anti-choice" and calling it by "Pro-Life" for a year. The side hasn't changed, only your words, see if your view on the subject changes. I'm not even suggesting you change it from "Pro-Choice" to "Pro-Death" or "Anti-life". Just stop calling it Anti-life and call it Pro-Life for a year.

      You see, I bet you can't or won't be able to do it. And now you'll make excuses and attack me for even making such a suggestion.

      After all, it is always easier to kill someone if you dehumanize them first. Jews are Pigs. Christians are devils. Muslims are evil doers. Blacks are apes. Women are property. Babies are fetal tissue.

    • Re:Religious issue (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Attila Dimedici (1036002) on Thursday January 28, 2010 @09:08PM (#30944352)

      The article also points out that this method could work around the ethical issues surrounding embryonic stem-cell research.

      This is more a religious issue rather than ethical - much like the pro-choice and anti-choice debate. Same people are anti-stem cell as those who are anti-choice.

      Right, the same people who are in favor of killing unborn babies just because people don't want to have a baby, are in favor of killing unborn babies to harvest stem cells to use for medical research (even though all of the evidence points to those cells being of no medical use).

    • by mhajicek (1582795)
      What's an anti-stem cell?
    • by Draek (916851)

      No it isn't, please inform yourself before speaking any further.

  • Article (Score:5, Informative)

    by interkin3tic (1469267) on Thursday January 28, 2010 @07:05PM (#30943150)

    For those of you trying to find the actual nature article, here. [nature.com] I know we hate paywalls, but it should really be required for submission to slashdot that a link to the real paper, not preview, be included.

    I am not a stem cell biologist, nor am I a neurobiologist, and I will need to read the paper more carefully when I’m at home, but some of my thoughts:
    There do seem to be some hurdles to using this in humans, but many are trivial in comparison, and the reason the authors didn’t do them yet is because they wanted to get this out there before anyone else did. For one thing, they haven’t shown this in humans yet, but it should work in human cells that’s their stated next step. These cells were grown using dead mouse “feeder cells” which is common in cell culture, but complicates things for human therapy. You don’t want even dead mouse cells or other people’s dead cells in something that is going to go into your brain. People are working on culturing without feeder cells, I’m not sure where they are on that. The method of getting the 3 genes in is also an issue. These guys used lentiviral transfection, which is not something you want for human cells. Earlier work on IPSC got it done by incubating cells with transcription factor –protein- modified to penetrate cells. That might be a good next step here, though it would probably decrease the efficiency.

    A bigger issue to me is what they are transfecting. They’re putting in three transcription factors, Ascl1, Brn2 (also called Pou3f2) and Myt1l. One of them, Ascl1, is found in many cancers (according to wiki anyway) and might be tumorgenic. Especially if they find they can’t get it to work without viral transfection, that could be a concern. The other two though aren’t tumorgenic apparently. Brn2 (also called Pou3f2) and Myt1l are both associated with neuron differentiation, which is interesting.

    They did overcome a big hurdle: these are not pluripotent, which probably means there’s less chance of causing tumors, teratomas. With induced pluripotent cells, that is a concern. If you were to inject IpsC into your brain, you don’t know what you’re going to get. You could get bone cells growing in there, cells which aren’t supposed to be there that could potentially cause tumor formation. This doesn’t seem like that will be an issue here, they apparently get all neurons, neurons which appear not to continue dividing. I do find it a little hard to believe though that these only produce neurons and never glial cells, though I’ll need to reread it a few more times.

    This is also a interesting paradigm shift for developmental biologists: apparently you don’t have to go back to square one to switch cell fates, it will take longer and be less efficient to do so. IpsC take about a month to become pluripotent and then be grown back into neurons, and only about 1% of the cells do that if I recall correctly. These take a week.

    For much of the study, they seem to be using 5 different factors, not the 3 minimal ones. They state that Ascl1 alone was sufficient to make these cells start looking like neurons, but the other two were needed for them to look and behave like mature neurons. Most of the figures were working with a combination of 5 factors. With all 5, they showed a good mix of different types of neurons, but that had less efficient conversion than the minimal 3. I’m wondering if you’d actually be able to get all the different types of mature neurons with just the 3. I’d guess it’s not that they intentionally did it that way, but they wanted to hurry up and publish ASAP, so they skipped doing that characterization for now.

    One problem facing all these therapies eventually, as I understand it, is that you want to get one specific type of neuron for therapy. I have no idea what strategies there are to direct differentiation into specific types of neurons, but this seems like it would be the bigger hurdle.

  • I'm not particularly keen on the idea of using skin cells for this. Sure, they're readily accessible (not very invasive), but skin cells are really close to the surface of the body (or at the surface of the body), and therefore really close to environmental influences. They die frequently (a fair amount of the dust in your house is dead skin cells), and are exposed to many things that can cause genetic mutations, sunlight probably being the biggest thing. If I had to regenerate neurons from other body cells

  • by NotSoHeavyD3 (1400425) on Thursday January 28, 2010 @08:07PM (#30943804)
    I mean the "This suggests that there are no great rules -- you can reprogramme anything into anything else." quote. From what I remember from bio class tissues in mammals split into 3 different layers early on, the ectodermm the mesoderm and the endoderm. Oddly enough both skin and nerves come from the ectoderm. So what the scientist has demonstrated is he can turn on part of the ectoderm into another. (Not that he could say take endoderm from say the intestines and convert it into skin.)
  • Just print yourself up a new body and replace the brain one hemisphere at a time and you too can live forever!!!!

    No guarantees if you can preserve you "ghost"..... or not....

  • So the obvious next step is to create neurons in situ for a wearable biocomputer powered by your body! Yes the world of the future is a bit like having bees live in your head but, there they are, and like the lady said "I said live it, or live with it!"
  • There is no need for a work-around on Stem-cell research. Stem-cells are taken from already dead fetuses. There is no ethical issue. Why do people have so many damn problems with using dead tissue to save lives? Either way the technical feat achieved here is still remarkable. It is a work-around not from an ethical perspective but getting the same results from a more abundant cell.

"Irrationality is the square root of all evil" -- Douglas Hofstadter

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