In China, researchers are coaxing brain cells out of pee. They’ve devised a new technique for reprogramming cells taken from human urine into immature neurons. This trick could help supply cells for studying the mechanisms of neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, The Guardian reports.
While stem cells raise all sort of ethical questions since they’re obtained from human embryos, most people likely don’t have qualms with skin-like cells from pee. The researchers coax these discarded cells into a stem cell-like state. The Guardian describes the method:
We now know that cells taken from the adult human body can be made to revert to a stem cell-like state and then transformed into virtually any other type of cell. This typically involves using genetically engineered viruses that shuttle control genes into the nucleus and inserts them into the chromosomes, whereupon they activate genes that make them pluripotent, or able to re-differentiate into another type of cell.
Last year, the same group of Chinese researchers showed that cells sloughed off from the lining of the kidney tubules and discarded in urine can be reprogrammed into neurons, liver cells and heart muscle cells. Now, they’ve improved and streamlined that method.
They transplanted newly re-programmed neurons from three human donors into newborn rat brains. The cells survived when they took a look at the rats a month later, though whether they continue to flourish remains to be seen.
The next logical step, they say, will be to generate neurons from urine samples of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and other patients suffering from neurodegenerative disease in order to better understand those diseases and, ultimately, devise and test treatments.
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