Perhaps more than any other medical field, stem cell research could have a significant and wide-reaching near-term public health impact. Cell-replacement therapies and other treatments are in currently in development for over 50 diseases.
Recent advances have been achieved in techniques for generating human neurons that could help – both through reprogramming somatic cells directly to neurons, and in differentiating pluripotent cells to neurons.
- Reprogramming is converting cells from one type to another by introducing additional genes (e.g.; transcription factors) to transform them. Recent research makes use of both canonical and novel transcription factors, and the application of growth factors, microRNAs, and small molecules. This technique is particularly vaunted as it may be possible to reprogram human adult cells such as skin cells, which are easily attainable, into any other type of needed cell, such as heart cells and neurons.
- Differentiation is the other main technique for generating neurons. In this case, human pluripotent stem cells are differentiated to neural cells with the introduction of growth factors and detailed cell-culturing processes.