In what one researcher called "cellular alchemy," two different teams of scientists have reported transforming mouse and rat skin cells into brain cells of the type that's destroyed during multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy and certain other disorders.
"We are taking a readily accessible and abundant cell and completely switching its identity to become a highly valuable cell for therapy," Paul Tesar, a geneticist at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio, said in a press release. "It's cellular alchemy."
The type of cell that the researchers made is a young, immature version of an oligodendrocyte. Oligodendrocytes normally wrap the nerve fibers of the brain and spinal cord in a protective coating called myelin. With certain diseases, though, people lose that coating or suffer damage to it, which can lead to severe symptoms, such as losing control of the arms and legs.