THURSDAY, June 7, 2012 (HealthDay News) -- Scientists who reprogrammed skin cells into brain cells say their research could lay the groundwork for new ways to treat Alzheimer's and other brain diseases.
The team at the Gladstone Institutes in San Francisco transferred a gene called Sox2 into both mouse and human skin cells. Within days, the skin cells transformed into early-stage brain stem cells called induced neural stem cells.
These cells began to self-renew and soon matured into neurons capable of transmitting electrical signals. Within a month, these new neurons had developed into neural networks, according to the research published online June 7 in the journal Cell Stem Cell.
These transformed cells could provide better models for testing new drugs to treat Alzheimer's and other brain diseases, the researchers said.
"Many drug candidates -- especially those developed for neurodegenerative diseases -- fail in clinical trials because current models don't accurately predict the drug's effects on the human brain," Gladstone investigator Dr. Yadong Huang, who is also an associate professor of neurology at the University of California, San Francisco, said in a Gladstone news release.
"Human neurons -- derived from reengineered skin cells -- could help assess the efficacy and safety of these drugs, thereby reducing risks and resources associated with human trials," Huang explained.
About 5.4 million people in the United States have Alzheimer's disease and that number is expected to triple by 2050., the release notes. Currently, there are no approved drug treatments to prevent or reverse the disease.
The U.S. National Institute on Aging has more about Alzheimer's disease.