Progress in stem cell research may lead to better Alzheimer s treatment

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Nerve cells, or neurons, process and transmit information. Skin cells, by contrast, don t have that capacity. It s quite exciting, then, that researchers from Columbia University have discovered a way to transform skin cells into fully functioning neurons. This method, reported in the journal Cell, is also notable because it avoids the controversial use of embryonic stem cells.

Being able to study these nerve cells, whether in a lab or when integrated into the brains of developing mice, will be especially important to finding treatments for progressive diseases such as Alzheimer s and ALS (Lou Gehrig s disease). This is because the skin cells turned neurons will allow scientists to actually see what s happening in the living neurons affected by these diseases, says lead author Dr. Asa Abeliovich.

ACSH's Dr. Gilbert Ross is impressed by these novel methods and is hopeful that they ll allow for significant progress in the study of neurological diseases. These types of studies point the way toward real advances, he says. However, he reminds us that these findings are based on a small, preliminary study. Given that, he says, it s still unlikely that human benefits relevant to neurological diseases will be seen in the near future.