Every so often I come across some published research that literally blows my mind with the possibility it provides. This was one such occasion. A remarkable breakthrough has just been published in the journal Nature Biotechnology. Researchers from the Case Western Reserve School of Medicine in Cleveland, Ohio, have discovered a technique that allows a particular form of functional skin cell to be transformed into what are called myelinating cells. These special brain cells produce myelin, the insulating material used by neurons to increase the speed of transmission of electrical impulses.
People who have multiple sclerosis (MS), cerebral palsy (CP) and some very rare genetic disorders called leukodystrophies, lose their myelinating cells, which cannot normally be replaced.
This new technique could potentially become an extremely valuable form of cell therapy.
The beauty of the technique is that there is an abundant supply of the particular skin cells called fibroblasts available, which are used in a process called cellular programming, to turn them into the precursors of the brain cells called oligodendrocytes. Importantly these precursors have been shown to be capable of regenerating new myelin coatings around nerves after being transplanted into mice. Moreover the researchers were able to produce literally billions of these special cells very easily.
Previously this type of cellular therapy relied on the use of foetal tissue or pluripotent stem cells, which was quite limited. The findings of the Case Western team are very exciting because it makes it feasible to offer fast and accessible access to functional myelin generating cells.
The first step using mice has now been
accomplished. The next step is to show feasibility and safety in human cells. I can't wait to hear how that research pans out.
Fadi J Najm, Angela M Lager, Anita Zaremba, Krysta Wyatt, Andrew V Caprariello, Daniel C Factor, Robert T Karl, Tadao Maeda, Robert H Miller, Paul J Tesar. Transcription factor–mediated reprogramming of fibroblasts to expandable, myelinogenic oligodendrocyte progenitor cells. Nature Biotechnology, 2013; DOI: 10.1038/nbt.2561
Photo Credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/37457859@N08/3442840086/">Myelin Repair Foundation</a> via <a href="http://compfight.com">Compfight</a> <a href="http://www.flickr.com/help/general/#147">cc</a>