Bypassing stem cells, mouse skin cells have been converted directly into cells that become the three main parts of the animal's nervous system, according to new research at the Stanford University School of Medicine.
The startling success of this method seems to refute the idea that "pluripotency" -- the ability of stem cells to become nearly any cell in the body -- is necessary for a cell to transform from one cell type to another.
It raises the possibility that embryonic stem cell research, as well as a related technique called "induced pluripotency," could be supplanted by a more direct way of generating cells for therapy or research.
"Not only do these cells appear functional in the laboratory, they also seem to be able to integrate ... in an animal model," said lead author and graduate student Ernesto Lujan in a Stanford news release.
The study was published online on January 30 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The finding implies that it may one day be possible to generate a variety of neural-system cells for transplantation that would perfectly match a human patient.
While much research has been devoted to harnessing the potential of embryonic stem cells, taking those cells from an embryo and then implanting them in a patient could prove difficult because they would not match genetically.
The Stanford team is working to replicate the work with skin cells from adult mice and humans.
But Lujan emphasized that much more research is needed before any human transplantation experiments could be conducted.
Source: Mercurynews.com by Lisa M.Krieger