The best kept secret

The best kept secret: 

How to trick normal cells into becoming neurons.

credits: Ana Costa.
A variety of different proteins characterizes each cell type.

A recent report (17th january, Cell) has presented evidence that cell types other than neurons, such as cells of the connective tissues, can be turned into neurons only by controlling the levels of one protein in those cells. 

So far, this “trick” is the simplest and more straightforward way ever reported to obtain neurons in the lab, as other previously employed methods involved the use of many compounds and were less efficient. The results are exciting, but the important step of replicating this work in animals is far from reality, at least for now. At the moment, scientists are trying to understand if they can achieve the same results in whole organisms (moving from in vivo to in vitro systems). Positive results would definitely have a great impact on the way we deal with neurodegenerative diseases (Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and others).

Strategies aiming at preserving damaged neurons or attempts to slow down the rate of neuron deterioration have not considerably improved the quality of life of those affected with neurodegeneration. Now, these results will prompt the scientists to explore a promising new route: the conversion of cells that lie nearby the damaged neurons into new neurons.

And in addition to the promising new therapeutics, one cannot avoid envisioning a scenario where even healthy individuals could profit from this technique: - Why not ask your doctor to boost your pool of neurons? You may consider getting just a couple more to help you pass the final exams; or you can go big and request a pile of fresh new ones to address the list of long-standing prize money-earning unsolved mathematical problems.

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