The human brain is as fascinating as it is complex. When the brain experiences trauma and disease, the results can be devastating.
Now, scientists from Cambridge University in England say they have discovered new treatments for debilitating neurological diseases that could possibly open the door to a cure for Alzheimer’s, epilepsy, stroke and autism.
The researchers say they have, for the first time, created cerebral cortex cells, which are part of the brain’s grey matter, from a small sample of human skin. The cerebral cortex makes up 75 percent of the brain and is a major area where disease can develop.
The newly created cells will help re-create brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s in the lab, while providing what scientists call "previously impossible insight" to allow them to develop and test new drugs to stop these devastating diseases from progressing.
The findings will also enable scientists to study how the human cerebral cortex develops, how it "wires up" and how learning disabilities occur.
According to Britain’s Sunday Telegraph, before this new development, it has only been possible to generate tissue from the cerebral cortex by using controversial embryonic stem cells.
However, since embryonic research has drawn ethical concerns scientists say it has led to limited availability of funding and materials.
Dr. Rick Livesey of the Gurdon Institute and Department of Biochemistry at the University of Cambridge, principal investigator of the research, said: ''We have been able to take reprogrammed skin cells so they develop into brain stem cells and then essentially replay brain development in the laboratory. This approach gives us the ability to study human brain development and disease in ways that were unimaginable even five years ago.”
The scientists took skin biopsies from patients and then reprogrammed the cells from the skin samples back into stem cells. The stem cells as well as human embryonic stem cells were then used to generate cerebral cortex cells.
Dr. Livesey added, ''We can study brain development and what goes wrong when it is affected by disease in a way we haven't been able to before. We see it as a major breakthrough in what will now be possible.''
The findings, which were funded by Alzheimer’s Research UK and the Welcome Trust, were published in Nature Neuroscience.