Science News

Researchers make nerve cells from new "stem" cells

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - 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 Cooney