Human Brain Cells Grown in Lab

Scientists at the University of Cambridge have for the first time generated crucial types of human brain cells in the laboratory by reprogramming skin cells. Inevitably this could speed up the hunt for new treatments for conditions such as Alzheimer's disease, epilepsy and stroke.

Until now it has only been possible to generate tissue from the cerebral cortex.This is the area of the brain where most major neurological diseases occur, by using controversial embryonic stem cells, obtained by the destruction of an embryo.

Initially brain cells grown in this way could be used to help researchers gain a better understanding of how the brain develops, what happens when it is affected by disease and it could also be used for screening new drug treatments.Eventually they hope the cells could also be used to provide healthy tissue that can be implanted into patients to treat neurodegenerative diseases and brain damage.

Dr Rick Livesey, who led the research at the University of Cambridge's Gurdon [corr] Institute, said: "The cerebral cortex makes up 75% of the human brain, is where all the important processes that make us human take place. It is, however, also the major place where disease can occur.
"We have been able to take reprogrammed skin cells so they develop into brain stem cells and then essentially replay brain development in the laboratory.
"We can study brain development and what goes wrong when it is affected by disease in a way we haven't been able to before. We see it as a major breakthrough in what will now be possible."