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Swedish team turns skin into nerve cells

Swedish team turns skin into nerve cells

Published: 07 Jun 2011 12:51 GMT+02:00
Updated: 07 Jun 2011 12:51 GMT+02:00

A team of researchers at Lund University in southern Sweden have managed to develop nerve cells from human skin cells without using stem cells - a development described as an ethical and medical breakthrough.

"This fundamentally changes how we look at mature cells and their capacity. Previously a skin cell was thought to always remain a skin cell, but we have shown that it can be any cell," said Malin Parmar, the Lund University researcher leading the study, to The Local on Tuesday.

The new technique works by reprogramming connective tissue cells, so-called human fibroblasts, directly into nerve cells, opening up a new field with the potential to "take research around cell transplantation to the next level".

Parmar explained that members of the research team were surprised at how receptive the fibroblasts were for new instructions.

"From the beginning this was mostly an experiment that was fun to try out. But fairly quickly it was shown that the cells were unexpectedly receptive to instructions," she said.

The study appears in the latest edition of the respected journal PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America), published by the United States National Academy of Sciences (NAS).

Parmar told The Local that the team hopes that their work could help to tackle diseases such as Parkinson's and help to avoid the ethical complications of using foetal stem cells.

"It could be used to assist in the treatment of Parkinson's, or any other type of neuro-degenerative disease. It provides an alternative to stems cells," she said.

"Furthermore it allows for the use of a patient's own cells to study the specifics of their condition in a Petri dish - limiting the potential for adverse reactions."

Before the technique is used in clinics more research is required into how the new nerve cells survive and work in the brain, but the goal in the future is to enable doctors to develop the brain cells a patient needs from a simple skin or hair sample.

Peter Vinthagen Simpson (news@thelocal.se)

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Your comments about this article

18:45 June 7, 2011 by chang
It is a great innovation in science! The scientists did a really great job!
19:32 June 7, 2011 by Frank Arbach
Thought a team from Stanford University (USA) had already successfully carried out this type of experiment in January 2010. In their case they turned skin cells from mice tails, into brain (nerve) cells
20:49 June 7, 2011 by Keith #5083
There are certain areas of human endeavour - this being one of them - that truly stagger the imagination and give great hope for the welfare of future generations.
10:09 June 8, 2011 by Morenikeji
Shouldn't it be a team of researchers has... not have? Poor grammar is normal on The Local, but not usually from Peter Simpson. So watch it buddy!
20:11 June 9, 2011 by MadDogEnglishman
@Keith#5083

"Thought a team from Stanford University (USA) had already successfully carried out this type of experiment in January 2010. In their case they turned skin cells from mice tails, into brain (nerve) cells "

Yes they did....from MICE tail cells not as the Lund team did from HUMAN SKIN CELLS....hence this is why it is so much more important and worthy of our attention...
23:42 June 10, 2011 by fany82
Frank is right about the team (Wernig group from Stanford) but it was recently in May. They were indeed the FIRST to publish this. Wernig group has made a great Nature paper that reflect the quality and exclusivity of the work. Second place deserves lower journals like PNAS, that's the game in science. When you are second, it doesn't make you a less brillant team, but don't take the credit of the first.

Please next time LOCAL verify your source...
00:00 June 19, 2011 by Gregory Allen Leeds
This could potentialy provide a paridigm change for researchers all over the scientific world who cannot, by reason of Hippocratic Oath, harm a fetus to harvest human embriotic stem cells. The ethical implications are resounding from the Vatican to Mecca. Keep up the good work!
10:29 July 16, 2011 by kyleenC
This is another breakthrough in the field of medicine. I can see now that just a little later, scientists will already find a treatment for brain diseases. Neurodegenerative problems like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease rob millions of their well-being. Remedies elude the best medical minds, but a recent breakthrough may adjust that, reports The Independent. Professionals have now made human neurons from skin cells. I found this here: Scientists create neurons from skin cells without stem cells.
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