German scientists generate nerve cells directly from skin/umbilical cells

A lot of good science builds on what has come before it. That's the case with researchers at the University of Bonn in Germany, who have developed a way to convert skin and umbilical cord cells directly into nerve cells, a process they hope to use for disease and drug-testing research. The team, for example, credits Japanese scientist Shinya Yamanaka with reprogramming skin cells in 2006 into pluripotent stem cells, which are multipurpose cells that can theoretically produce all body cells. More progress came from Stanford University in 2010, when scientists directly transformed skin cells into induced neurons, though only a small number of the cells were successfully transformed. The Bonn team built on these ideas further: By blocking the SMAD signaling pathway as well as inhibiting glycogen synthase kinase 3 beta, they say they boosted the efficiency of the transformation by several times, leading to far more skin cell conversions into neurons. Details are published in the journal Nature Methods. Release

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