Monday, 15 April 2013

Researchers derive oligodendrocytes from ordinary skin cells

Researchers from the Case Western Reserve School of Medicine just announced that they have developed a new technique which converts skin cells into oligodendrocyte-producing stem cells. According to them, the technique enables the "on demand" production of oligodendrocytes and has the potential to help patients suffering from diseases caused by myelin degeneration, like multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy and rare genetic disorders known as leukodystrophies.

In this method, the oligodendrocyte-producing stem cells are derived directly from fibroblasts, one of the most common types of cells found in our skin and organs. These stem cells are called induced oligodendrocyte progenitor cells (OPCs).


Oligodendrocyte


During the study, the researchers used "sets of either eight or three defined transcription factors" to induce mouse embryonic and lung fibroblasts into becoming OPCs.

"Its cellular alchemy, we are taking a readily accessible and abundant cell and completely switching its identity to become a highly valuable cell for therapy." said Paul Tesar, senior author of the study

The researchers explain in their press release that before their discovery, OPCs could only be extracted from fetal tissue or induced pluripotent stem cells, which both come with many limitations. However, their method now gives a new tool in the battle against myelin-related diseases.

"The myelin repair field has been hampered by an inability to rapidly generate safe and effective sources of functional oligodendrocytes, The new technique may overcome all of these issues by providing a rapid and streamlined way to directly generate functional myelin producing cells." said senior author, Robert Miller.

In their experiments, the scientists created billions of these OPCs and showed they have the capacity generate new myelin coatings around nerves once transplanted to mice.

Now the next goal is to investigate the same method using human cells. If the results indicate its efficient and safe it may hold the key to treating patients suffering from myelin disorders.

"The progression of stem cell biology is providing opportunities for clinical translation that a decade ago would not have been possible, it is a real breakthrough." said Robert Miller, professor of neurosciences at the Case Western Reserve School

Oligodendrocytes are brain cells with their main functions being to support and  insulate the axons (the long projection of nerve cells) in the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord) of some vertebrates, including humans.


An oligodendrocyte myelinating several axons.


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Reference
Najm, F., Lager, A., Zaremba, A., Wyatt, K., Caprariello, A., Factor, D., Karl, R., Maeda, T., Miller, R., & Tesar, P. (2013). Transcription factor–mediated reprogramming of fibroblasts to expandable, myelinogenic oligodendrocyte progenitor cells Nature Biotechnology DOI: 10.1038/nbt.2561

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