Stem cells have long been the center of attraction for medical science. You can read about stem cells for creation of brain cells in this article we did earlier. But, did you ever imagine that stem cells might not be necessary at all? Did you think of skin cells turning to brain cells? Well, that’s precisely what has been accomplished by scientists.
The credit goes to brilliant scientists of Gladstone Institute. They have come up with a technique where all they need is skin cells from a person’s body. Once they have the cells, they will put the cells through a new drug treatment and then the magic happens – the magic of skin cells turning to brain cells. Not just that! Skin cells can also turn into heart cells. All these are achieved without any aid from stem cells or genes. It is just a combination of chemicals that magically turn skin cells into brain and heart cells that are active and beating. Wow!
Now, with this achievement cell regeneration using drugs is possible for treating diseases like Alzheimer’s or heart attack. This will totally eliminate the need for using stem cell based therapies which often come under attack on ethical grounds.
The actual experiment of skin cells turning to brain cells
A study conducted by the scientists was published in Cell Stem Cell. In that experiment, the scientists used a combination of some chemicals to first turn off genes of skin cell in mice. Then those cells were implanted into their brains. Once implanted, the cells manifested into three distinct types of brain cells – astrocytes, oligodendrocytes and neurons.
The actual experiment of skin cells turning to heart cells
In a different study that can be found here, the scientists made use of 9 chemicals for turning off skin cell genes of mice. Then, they made use of another set of chemicals to convert the cells into heart cells. Interestingly, 97 % of the newly converted heart cells were healthy and beating!
One of the senior authors of the two studies – Dr. Sheng Ding (Ph.D.), issued one statement in which he said, that the method developed by the team will someday help medical professionals to actually regenerate brain and heart cells at the injury site by making use of existing tissue cells of the subject and thereby help to fight diseases like Parkinson’s and heart failure. Dr. Ding further stated that the method is way more natural regeneration process that is found in salamanders and newts.
Co-senior author Deepak Srivastava says that heart failure treatments have one ultimate goal – finding a method for regeneration of muscle cells in a reliable and robust fashion. He added that nothing can be better than and safer than reprogramming the skin cells of a patient. It is, according to Srivastava, also the most efficient method of regenerating diseased and dying cells of heart muscle.
Gladstone’s senior investigator Yadong Huang (Ph. D. and MD) stated that in near future it may be possible to treat patients using a cocktail of drugs that can easily act on the spinal cord or brain of a patient and thereby offer brain cell rejuvenation in real time.
As of now the experiments are really promising and skin cells turning to brain cells using chemicals is no less than a miracle of science. However, we still need to go a long way because scientists are now required to ensure that the regenerated cells are safe. If they turn out to be safe, Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s or even heart failure may soon become confined within books that we call ‘history of medical science’.