Wait, what? It might seem difficult to believe, but scientists claims that they can persuade some of the cells that are expelled from the human body to grow into neurons—brain cells to you and me—given the correct conditions. They've published their results in Nature Methods.
The researchers have shown that they can take kidney epithelial cells, which are present in urine, and turns them into pluripotent stem cells—cells which can be coaxed to grow into any kind of human tissue—within just 12 days. That's about half the time usually required to make those kinds of cells, a process usually conducted using tissue biopsies or blood samples as an alternative to using embryonic stem cells.
The researchers had previously achieved similar results, but the stem cells weren't predictable because of a small genetic engineering tweak that was required for their approach to work. The new project, though, led by Duanqing Pei from the Guangzhou Institutes of Biomedicine and Health in China, has no such problems. Indeed, the scientists were able to grow them into stable, fully functioning neurons within four weeks. They even seem safe: when transplanted into rat brains, they didn't cause tumors, and behaved just as the researchers hoped.
All in, it could be a massive step forward for regenerative medicine. Without the need to use the sometimes-controversial embryonic stem cells, and no need to invasively acquire tissue or blood samples from patients, it could prove a quick and easy route to creating stem cells for use in regenerative medicine. And from there, huge advances in personalized healthcare are, quite literally, a piece of piss. [Nature]
Image by Francisco Antunes under Creative Commons license