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Researchers Claim Breakthrough in Replacement Cell Therapy

Stockbyte/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Researchers at Columbia University Medical Center say they are one step closer to developing replacement cell therapy to treat neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's, according to a study published Thursday online in the Journal Cell.

The potential breakthrough is contingent on a new technique that researchers claim can convert human skin cells into functional forebrain neurons, without the use of stem cells. Researchers referred to this method as "direct reprogramming."

“Direct reprogramming is fundamentally different from making neurons with iPS technologies,” says Dr. Asa Abeliovich, MD, PhD, associate professor of pathology & cell biology and neurology in the Taub Institute for Research on Alzheimer ’s disease and the Aging Brain at Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC). “Using direct reprogramming, you could, in theory, take someone’s skin cells and in a couple of weeks have fully functional neurons ready for replacement cell therapy.”

According to the study, the cells could create a method of testing that does not overstep the ethical concerns raised over the use of cells from human embryos. Other alternatives, including induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells, have been rendered less effective, time-consuming, and complex.

“Although the project is still at early stages and certainly not ready for clinical applications, therapies based on direct reprogramming seem more realistic than those based on iPS technology," says Dr. Abeliovich. “What is particularly exciting is that direct reprogramming is broadly applicable to the study and treatment of a host of neurological diseases.”

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