Tech brief: CWRU team transforms cells

Owen Bell, Games & Tech Reporter

In a work of breakthrough research, a team at Case Western Reserve School of Medicine was able to transform skin cells into brain cells. Using transformed mouse skin cells implanted into mouse brains, the team proved they could reverse the damage caused by diseases such as multiple sclerosis (MS), cerebral palsy (CP), and rare genetic disorders called leukodystrophies.

These conditions permanently destroy the cells that produce the myelin sheath that surrounds nerves in the brain. Without the sheath, the brain cells cannot properly transmit commands to the rest of the body.

Using a process described as “cellular alchemy” by Paul Tesar, senior author and assistant professor of genetics and genome sciences at the medical school, the research team was able to change skin cells into new brain cells.

Their technique worked by manipulating the levels of proteins within fibroblasts, cells common in human skin and organs, which transformed them into oligodendrocytes, the cells responsible for myelinating the brain.

Previously, this process could only be done in limited quantities using fetal tissue or pluripotent stem cells as the base material. As part of the study, the CWRU teamed proved they could produce billions of new cells, overcoming this issue.

The study was published in Nature Biotechnology.