By Christopher Vaughan
Nan Yang, PhD, a postdoctoral scholar in the Wernig laboratory and lead author of the study, pointed out that there is another advantage to using this technique. “By using the patient’s own skin cells, we should be able to generate transplantable OPCs that are genetically identical to the patient’s natural OPCs,” Yang said. “This allows us to avoid the problem of immune rejection, which is a major complication in transplantation medicine.”
Last year, Wernig’s team successfully created human nerve cells out of skin cells. Other researchers had successfully used a similar process to turn skin cells into embryonic-like cells called induced pluripotent stem cells, and then grow those iPS cells into nerve cells, but Wernig’s lab was the first to convert skin cells directly into nerve cells without the intermediate iPS cell step.
The team’s current research project also involved directly converting skin cells into OPCs without having to create iPS cells. The researchers showed that mouse and rat skin cells could be directly converted into OPCs, and that these cells would successfully myelinate nerve cells when transplanted into the brains of mice with a myelin disorder.
Next, the team plans to reproduce the research in human cells; if successful, the approach could lay the groundwork for therapies for a wide array of myelin disorders and spinal cord injury.
Other Stanford co-authors were postdoctoral scholars Bradley Zuchero, PhD, Henrik Ahlenius, PhD, Samuele Marro, PhD, and Thomas Vierbuchen, PhD; graduate student Yi Han Ng; undergraduate researchers John Hawkins and Richard Geissler; and Ben Barres, PhD, professor of neurobiology.
The research was supported by the Ellison Medical Foundation, the Stinehart-Reed Foundation, the National Institutes of Health (grants MH092931 and EY10257), the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Swedish Research Council, the Swedish Society for Medical Research and the New York Stem Cell Foundation.
Stanford’s Department of Pathology and Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine also supported the work.