Scientists in China have successfully taken ordinary cells in urine and have transformed them into neural progenitor cells, the precursors of brain cells. These types of cells could help researchers produce cells specifically designed for individuals more quickly. This breakthrough, essentially getting neurons from cells discarded from urine, may one day help develop therapies for neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Huntington’s.
“This could definitely speed things up,” says James Ellis, a medical geneticist at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children in Ontario, Canada, who makes patient-specific iPS cells to study autism spectrum disorders.
The benefit of sourcing cells in this way is that urine can be collected from nearly any patient, says geneticist Marc Lalande, who creates iPS cells to study neurogenetic diseases at the University of Connecticut Health Center in Farmington, and is particularly intrigued by the possibility of making iPS cells and neural progenitors from the same patient.
“We work on childhood disorders,” he says. “And it’s easier to get a child to give a urine sample than to prick them for blood.”
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