Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Disclaimer: The Parliamentary Library does not warrant or accept liability for the accuracy or usefulness of the transcripts. These are copied directly from the broadcaster's website.
Scientists turn skin cells into brain cells w -

View in ParlViewView other Segments

ELEANOR HALL: Scientists have made a breakthrough in research on degenerative brain diseases by
turning adult skin cells into brain cells in the lab.

It's the first time that adult cells have been manipulated successfully without first having to be
converted to an embryonic state.

The scientists from Stanford University who conducted the research in mice say they hope it will
lead to treatments for human diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, as Carly Laird reports.

CARLY LAIRD: Scientists say the latest breakthrough is a big step along the road to using adult
stem cells to treat diseases like Parkinson's and Alzheimer's.

The research published in the journal Nature today showed that the scientists from Stanford
University were able to reprogram adult skin cells into neurons, or brain cells.

Thomas Vierbuchen was the lead researcher of the report.

THOMAS VIERBUCHEN: Currently the way that this is done is by making induced pluripotent stem cells,
or IPS cells, and then those cells are differentiated into neurons. So we wanted to sort of cut out
the middleman and directly convert skill cells into neurons.

CARLY LAIRD: Thomas Vierbuchen says he was particularly excited about the results because there was
no reason to expect it might work.

THOMAS VIERBUCHEN: So we went in with, I wouldn't say low expectations, but we wanted to give it a
try because we thought it was very exciting. If we could get it to work, it certainly has a variety
of implications. So we were very happy when we were able to see the first neurons that we generated
because it was a very high risk project.

CARLY LAIRD: He says they saw results within one week.

THOMAS VIERBUCHEN: The transformation of a skin cell into a neuron could represent the first time
that cells that aren't already closely related to each other in your body have been able to
directly convert between each other.

When you look at the cells in culture it's amazing that they can transform their phenotype from
skin cells - very flat and sort of boring looking - to these beautiful neurons, so it's very
interesting and exciting to see them growing out of the cultures of skin cells.

CARLY LAIRD: Thomas Vierbuchen says the next step is to apply the technique to humans.

THOMAS VIERBUCHEN: If the technique can be applied to humans, certainly neurodegenerative diseases,
for example, Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's or spinal cord injuries are the current models that
are receiving the most attention in the field.

CARLY LAIRD: Professor Richard Boyd is the Director of the Immunology and Stem Cell Laboratories at
Monash University in Melbourne.

He says it's a major breakthrough.

RICHARD BOYD: This study has become a very sophisticated part of the Lego set that we now can say,
well, rather than having to renovate the car, we don't have to replace the entire car, take it
back, strip it right back. We might just have to fix the carburettor. And that's the kind of
excitement that the field is really moving into now.

CARLY LAIRD: He says this discovery has big implications for the entire field of stem cell

RICHARD BOYD: It's just making astonishing leaps forward in understanding cell biology. To be able
to take a cell which we would have considered was a fibroblast or a skin cell or whatever and now
say, "Okay, well that's what you look like today but tomorrow I'm going to turn you into a nerve
cell because the person who created you has now got a brain problem".

I mean, to be able to do that and to do it in a safe way in the future is truly, it is a potential
revolution in medicine. That's absolutely for sure.

CARLY LAIRD: But professor Boyd says there's still years of further research before it can be used
for human therapies.

RICHARD BOYD: We have to remember, this is only mouse and they haven't shown long-term outcomes in
this and the question will be is that cell still going to remain a very healthy nerve cell for the
rest of its life or will it still remember some of its past?

And those are the sorts of long-term studies which of course are going to come now.

CARLY LAIRD: And it's not likely to replace embryonic stem cell research, which has raised
controversial ethical issues for scientists and governments in recent years.

Thomas Vierbuchen again.

THOMAS VIERBUCHEN: Certainly there are a variety of things that both embryonic stem cells and
induced pluripotent stem cells are good for that our technique certainly cannot replace at all. But
for some things it's possible, for some applications it's possible that our techniques could avoid
the use of those types of cells, but certainly we in no way feel that our technique is meant to
replace the research that's being done with embryonic stem cells.

ELEANOR HALL: That's Thomas Vierbuchen from Stanford University ending Carly Laird's report.