WASHINGTON Feb 24 Researchers said on Tuesday
they had made a type of nerve cell out of ordinary skin cells
in a new approach to stem cell research.
They made motor neurons out of induced pluripotent stem
cells, or iPS cells -- a type of cell made from ordinary skin
cells that resembles human embryonic stem cells.
Scientists hope that iPS cells might offer a substitute for
embryonic stem cells and a short-cut to tailored medical
therapy for a range of diseases.
Motor neurons make muscles contract, and being able to make
new motor neurons might help treat diseases such as amyotrophic
lateral sclerosis, or ALS, the team at the University of
California Los Angeles reported.
"IPS-derived cells appeared to follow a normal
developmental progression associated with motor neuron
formation," they wrote in the journal Stem Cells.
They looked like neurons taken from human embryonic stem
cells, the researchers added.
Stem cells are the body's master cells, and a type taken
from days-old embryos, called embryonic stem cells, have the
ability to morph into any cell or tissue type in the body.
Researchers have identified the genes needed to turn back
the clock in a cell and make it act like one of those baby
cells, and several teams found a way last year to do it --
calling the result iPS cells.
William Lowry and colleagues used the method to reprogram
skin fibroblasts back to an embryonic state, and then turned
them into motor neurons.
Next, they will attach their neurons to muscle cells and
see if they can make them contract. The hope would be someday
to use a skin sample from a patient to generate a tissue
transplant, or perhaps to build a library of cell types from
healthy donors to treat genetic diseases.
(Reporting by Maggie Fox; Editing by Will Dunham and Peter