Human brain cells 'created from skin'

Human brain cells 'created from skin'

British scientists claim to have for the first time created brain tissue from human skin, a major breakthrough which may soon pave the way for new and more effective treatments for stroke and Alzheimer's disease.

Until now, it has only been possible to generate tissue from cerebral cortex, the area of the brain where most major neurological diseases occur, by using controversial embryonic stem cells, obtained by the destruction of an embryo.

Now, a team at the University of Cambridge says that it has produced human brain cells in the laboratory just by reprogramming skin cells so that they develop into neurons found in the cerebral cortex, 'The Sunday Telegraph' reported.

"The cerebral cortex makes up 75 per cent of the human brain, is where all the important processes that make us human take place.

"It is, however, also the major place where disease can occur. We have been able to take reprogrammed skin cells so they develop into brain stem cells and then essentially replay brain development in the laboratory.

"We can study brain development and what goes wrong when it is affected by disease in a way we haven't been able to before. We see it as a major breakthrough in what will now be possible," Dr Rick Livesey, who led the team, said.

The cerebral cortex is the part of the brain that is responsible for most of the major high-level thought processes such as memory, language and consciousness.

In their research, the scientists created the two major types of neuron that form the cerebral cortex from reprogrammed skin cells and show that they were identical to those created from the controversial embryonic stem cells.

Livesey said this may eventually lead to new treatments for patients where damaged tissue could be replaced by brain cells grown in the laboratory from a sample of their skin.

"You don't need to rebuild damage to recover function as the brain is quite good at recovering itself -- it does this after stroke for example. However, it may be possible to give it some extra real estate that it can use to do this.

"We can make large numbers of cerebral cortex neurons by taking a sample of skin from anybody, so in principal it should be possible to put these back into the patients," he was quoted as saying.

Dr Simon Ridley, head of research at Alzheimer's Research UK, which funded the research alongside Wellcome Trust, added: "Turning stem cells into networks of fully functional nerve cells in the lab holds great promise for unravelling complex brain diseases such as Alzheimer's."

The findings have been published in the latest edition of the 'Nature Neuroscience' journal.