PanNeural progenitors proliferating in culture  Photo credit Lihui Wang, Guangjin Pan and Duanqing Pei

An abundant supply of brain cells would be useful for researchers studying and developing therapies for Parkinson’s and other neurodegenerative diseases.

Stem-cell biologist Duanqing Pei and his team at China’s Guangzhou Institutes of Biomedicine and Health can transform ordinary kidney epithelial cells in urine into the precursors of brain cells, neural progenitor cells, to create cells tailored to individuals.

Unlike neurons, the neural progenitor cells (above) proliferate in culture, providing scientists with abundant cells for experimentation.

Currently, researchers reprogram skin and blood cells into pluripotent stem (iPS) cells that can become any cell in the body.  Because urine can be collected from any patient, the progenitor cells can be produced more quickly and from more patients than current methods.

The team at Guangzhou produced round colonies of iPS from urine in only 12 days, half the time it takes to conventionally produce iPS cells.

After further culturing, the reprogrammed cells developed into functional neurons.  A month after having been transplanted into newborn rat brains, the cells took on the shape and molecular markers of neurons.  And unlike stem cell transplants that carry the risk of developing tumors, there were no tumors.

James Ellis, a medical geneticist at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children, produces patient-specific iPS cells to study autism spectrum disorders.  He says, “This could definitely speed things up.”

Making iPS cells and neural progenitors from the same patient also appeals to Geneticist Marc Lalande, who creates iPS cells for his study of neurogenetic diseases at the University of Connecticut Health Center in Farmington.

Ellis said, “We work on childhood disorders.  And it’s easier to get a child to give a urine sample than to prick them for blood.”

Sources:  SmartPlanet Daily, December 13, 2012      Nature News, December 09, 2012      Study published in Nature Methods, December 2012



  1. Martin Cosentino

    “With G-d, all things are possible.” It isn’t kosher to mention the divine in a scientific conversation. It upsets the apple cart, causes laboratory-types to squirm in their seats, and introduces a subject into objectivity. It causes apoplectic behavior among researchers, makes Richard Dawkins book sales go up, and puts more blocks on the wall separating church and state. Yet the philosophy behind transforming human waste into BRAIN CELLS reveals a miraculous process at work. ‘Neural progenitors’ – nerves for life – are cultured from ordinary epithelial cells discarded in the waste material from the body. There is an immediate aalogy here to a ‘lump of clay’ and the origins of humanity. There is that strange sensation that something primeval in offal is being manipulated by homo sapiens to ratchet the ‘ascent’ one more notch. There is that ubiquitous feeling that we are sitting right on top of immortality – its shining grandeur so brilliant that we scrape cautiously away at its coverings lest we are blinded in the attempts.
    There is a maxim in the Q’uran that comes to mind – ‘G-d is closer to you than the beating of your own heart.’ In this case, it might read, ‘closer than the next neuron that fires in your brain.’

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