Using a potion of growth factors and other nutrients, scientists at Jefferson Medical College have shown in the laboratory they are able to convert adult human bone marrow stem cells into adult brain cells.
While it's early in the research, the results suggest such stem cells may have potential use in someday treating neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson's disease.
"The goal [of the work] is to find stem cells that we can differentiate into dopamine neurons to replace those lost in Parkinson's disease," says developmental biologist Lorraine Iacovitti, Ph.D., professor of neurology at Jefferson Medical College of Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, who leads the research.
She reports her team's findings November 11 at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience in San Diego.
Human adult bone marrow stem cells - also known as pluripotent stem cells - normally give rise to human bone, muscle, cartilage and fat cells. Embryonic stem cells, in contrast, can become any type of cell.
Other scientists have shown previously that at least a portion of mouse bone marrow stem cells treated with various growth factors and other agents will go on to resemble neurons in cell culture.
Dr. Iacovitti's team used the previous group's cocktail of growth factors and nutrients on human bone marrow stem cells and found that only some cells converted to neurons - that is, they looked like neurons in that they developed "cellular processes."
But by experimenting with different combinations of growth factors and nutrients, they eventually found a cocktail of reagents that converted 100 percent of cells within an hour - a stunning development that had never been shown before.
"It flew in the face of everything I knew from developmental biology,"
Dr. Iacovitti says. "We've identified factors that get 100 percent of adult human bone marrow stem cells converted to neurons very quickly." Not only do the converted cells l
Contact: Steve Benowitz
Thomas Jefferson University