Washington: Researchers have said that a new method of generating mature nerve cells from skin cells could greatly enhance understanding of neurodegenerative diseases, and could accelerate the development of new drugs and stem cell-based regenerative medicine.
The nerve cells generated by this new method show the same functional characteristics as the mature cells found in the body, making them much better models for the study of age-related diseases such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's, and for the testing of new drugs.
Eventually, the technique could also be used to generate mature nerve cells for transplantation into patients with a range of neurodegenerative diseases.
By studying how nerves form in developing tadpoles, researchers from the University of Cambridge were able to identify ways to speed up the cellular processes by which human nerve cells mature.
By manipulating the signals which transcription factors send to the cells, Dr Anna Philpott of the Department of Oncology, who led the research, and her collaborators were able to promote cell differentiation and maturation, even in the presence of conflicting signals that were directing the cell to continue dividing.
The findings have been published in the journal Development.