New Source of Replacement Brain Cells Found

The neural progenitor cells seen in this image show stem-cell like qualities and could one day be used to treat a host of brain diseases. The green marker indicates support brain cells and the red marker indicates the presence of a protein normally found in stem cells. Blue marks the cells’ nucleus. Credit: Noah Walton/UF McKnight Brain Institute
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Scientists have found that a common type of human brain cell can transform into other cell types and reproduce indefinitely—tricks once thought exclusive to stem cells.

The mature human brain cells were extracted from epilepsy patients and coaxed into other types of brain cells in a lab. The human cells also transformed into different types of brain tissue when transplanted into the brains of mice.

The cells were maintained for nearly a year without showing signs of aging or of mutations associated with cancer cells. The researchers predict that one cell could give rise to 10 quadrillion brain cells—enough to replace every cell in about 50 million adult brains.

“This is a completely new source of human brain cells that can potentially be used to fight Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, stroke and a host of other brain disorders,”

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