Science in focus: Creating neurons from skin cells to understand autism
Studying brain disorders is complicated for many reasons, not the least being the ethics of obtaining living neurons. To overcome that obstacle, UC San Francisco postdoc Aditi Deshpande, PhD, is starting with skin cells.
Thanks to developments in stem cell technology, new information about the human brain is now being gleaned from a simple cheek swab or skin sample. This technology is key to the kind of progress Despande and researchers like her are making. It allows them to work with cells otherwise unobtainable – living brain cells that have the same genetics as the patients.
Deshpande begins with skin cells obtained from the Simons Foundation from volunteers whose DNA contains a specific deletion or duplication of one chromosome. She cultures these cells and then turns them into induced pluripotent stem cells – cells that have been coaxed back to their embryonic state and are able to become any other type of cell. From there, she reprograms them to become a specific type of neuron that’s involved in attention and information processing.
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- 15th March 2017