In late May we posted about Stanford University research wherein human skin cells were converted directly into functional neurons in a period of four to five weeks with the addition of just four proteins.
In this recent research, Dr. Sheng Ding used two genes and a microRNA to convert a skin sample from a 55-year-old woman directly into brain cells. (MicroRNAs are tiny strands of genetic material that regulate almost every process in every cell of the body.) The cells created by Dr. Ding’s experiments exchanged the electrical impulses necessary for brain cells to communicate things such as thoughts and emotions. Using microRNA to reprogram cells is a safer and more efficient way than using the more common gene-modification approach. In ensuing experiments, Dr. Ding hopes to rely only on microRNAs and pharmaceutical compounds to convert skin cells to brain cells, which should lead to more efficient generation of cells for testing and regenerative purposes.
While Dr. Sheng Ding is not on the iPerian scientific advisory board, several of his Gladstone colleages are, along with several Harvard stem cell researchers. In fact, the advisory boards of these two companies look like a who's who of stem cell research.
Dr. Ding's work builds on the cell-reprogramming work of another Gladstone scientist, Senior Investigator Shinya Yamanaka, MD, PhD. Dr. Yamanaka's 2006 discovery of a way to turn adult skin cells into cells that act like embryonic stem cells has radically advanced the fields of cell biology and stem-cell research.
Dr. Ding's work extends Dr. Yamanaka's by offering still another method for avoiding the use of embryonic stem cells and creating an entirely new platform for fundamental studies of human disease. Rather than using models made in yeast, flies or mice for disease research, all cell-reprogramming technology allows human brain, heart and other cells to be created from the skin cells of patients with a specific disease. The new cells created from the skin cells contain a complete set of the genes that resulted in that disease—representing the potential of a far-superior human model for studying illnesses, drugs and other treatments.
“This will help us avoid any genome modifications,” said Dr. Ding. “These cells are not ready yet for transplantation. But this work removes some of the major technical hurdles to using reprogrammed cells to create transplant-ready cells for a host of diseases.”
Adapted from the Gladstone Institute announcement.