Researchers coax immature brain stem cells from connective tissue

Stem cell news alert: Scientists at the University of Bonn in Germany were able to coax immature brain stem cells from mouse connective tissue. And these babies are versatile and malleable enough to be able to reproduce and be transformed into all different kinds of specific brain cells (versus the more rigid, mature versions).

Details of the research are highlighted in the journal Cell Stem Cell. Scientists envision ultimately using the process to treat all kinds of neurodegenerative diseases, and maybe wielding the concept to convert cells from other sources--all from patients themselves--into custom stem cells for all kinds of treatments.

"Our work could form the basis for providing practically unlimited quantities of the patient's own cells," lead researcher Frank Edenhofer of the University of Bonn said in a statement.

They imagine also testing potential new treatments on the custom cells in the lab. Human testing must come first, though, and the therapeutic success of this concept in animals or people remains a big unknown. It will take years to gauge real progress here.

The researchers are quick enough to credit others who came first, noting that their effort builds on the work of Japanese stem cell scientist Shinya Yamanaka. Back in 2006, he and his research team were the first to generate induced pluripotent stem cells from mouse connective tissue. The German team took things into a different direction by specifically focusing on generating neural or brain stem cells. And their work also branches out from researchers who could previously just program fully developed brain stem cells with only a limited ability to divide.

After starting with mice connective tissue cells, the Bonn scientists used a combination of four genes to begin the conversion process, targeting the production of neural or brain stem cells. And then they added the secret ingredient: the Oct4 gene, which helps prepare the connective tissue cells for reprogramming and also helped prevent the destabilized cells from becoming full brain stem cells.

- here's the release
- read the abstract/summary