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Cambridge scientists have, for the first time, created cerebral cortex cells – those that make up the brain’s grey matter – from a small sample of human skin.  The researchers’ findings were published in Nature Neuroscience.

Diseases of the cerebral cortex range from developmental conditions, such as epilepsy and autism, to neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s. Today’s findings will enable scientists to study how the human cerebral cortex develops, how it ‘wires up’ and how that can go wrong (a common problem leading to learning disabilities).

It will also allow them to recreate brain diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, in the lab.  This will give them previously impossible insight, allowing them to both watch the diseases develop in real time and also develop and test new drugs to stop the diseases progressing.

Dr. Rick Livesey of the Gurdon Institute and Department of Biochemistry at the University of Cambridge, principal investigator of the research, said: “This approach gives us the ability to study human brain development and disease in ways that were unimaginable even five years ago.”

For their research, the scientists took skin biopsies from patients and then reprogrammed the cells from the skin samples back into stem cells.  These stem cells as well as human embryonic stem cells were then used to generate cerebral cortex cells.

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