Can Skin Cells Turn Into Brain Cells? Scientists Tried It

A naturally-occurring “jumping” gene was used to turn skin cells into brain cells, opening the door for new brain disease treatments.

Video Transcript


- Scientists in Saudi Arabia figured out how to make neurons in a lab dish. These fully functional brain cells could be a great asset for treating brain disorders like Parkinson's, according to their study in the journal "Stem Cell Reports."

The experiment started out with skin cells from mouse embryos. These cells were reprogrammed into a type of neuron that's found deep inside your brain. The transformation seems to involve genes that can replicate themselves and dive into different parts of DNA. These jumping genes are called Line 1 or L1 elements. L1 elements are a natural and important ingredient in young brains, as they help neurons to form. But they can also be a source of disease.

The team could tell that these jumping genes were at work because the cell changes slowed down when exposed to a drug that blocks L1 activity. According to HowStuffWorks, the human brain is made of about 100 billion neurons.