Kimberly Blozie Kimberly Blozie

Dr. Marius Wernig reprograms skin cells to become brain cells

With the application of only three genes, mouse skin cells transformed into functional nerve cells.  ONLY THREE GENES!!  This is an incredible discovery. This has altered our understanding of how it is cells “choose” to maintain their functions within the body. Until recently, it was thought that cells had to regress into a kind of stem-cell-like state before changing into different cells, but now this research proves that powerful differentiation is only 3 genes away.

“We actively and directly induced one cell type to become a completely different cell type,” said Marius Wernig, MD, assistant professor of pathology and a member of Stanford University’s Institute of Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine. “These are fully functional neurons. They can do all the principal things that neurons in the brain do.” That includes making connections with and signaling to other nerve cells — critical functions if the cells are eventually to be used as therapy for Parkinson’s disease or other disorders. [1]

Dr. Marius Wernig in his lab

Dr. Marius Wernig, image sourced from The University of Stanford Website

Wernig’s research was published in Nature earlier this year. The abstract states:

Three transcription factors, Ascl1, Brn2 (also called Pou3f2) and Myt1l, suffice to rapidly and efficiently convert mouse embryonic and postnatal fibroblasts into functional neurons in vitro.

Transcription factors inhibit or activate various section of DNA or genes to express into proteins

The ONLY complaint I have about his research is that extremely young mouse skin cells were used. (Embryonic cells are harvested from a mouse embryo and postnatel cells are harvested from a recently born mouse).  Were adult skin cells used?  I’d like to see what happens with those. Nonetheless, the applications for this kind of research are staggering.  Nerve or even brain cell transplants coming directly from nearby tissues could soon be a reality for example.

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  • Josh

    OMG.. this can be a reality show… Thick Skinned to Einstein. I am sure my skin will be glad to let go of 3 genes before my GMAT. On a serious note I am sure it will lead to something fascinating. I hope it can be used to overcome neurological disorders.

    • Kimberly Blozie

      LOL. Indeed, this is fascinating science indeed. We shall see what comes of it

  • Pat

    where was this published at? I would like to read the journal article if at all possible

  • conadmin

    this is fascinating stuff. i am still not sure this is really right. i mean i would have to read the journal article as well!. seems too good to be true

  • IamForStemCells

    wernig is a very very well respected researcher. hence i am sure they know what they are talking about. you can hear him talk about the potential of stem cells in this talk – http://med.stanford.edu/121/2010/wernig.html

    • Kimberly Blozie

      Thanks for the link SkepticJoe.

      - Kim

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