AANS Neurosurgeon | Volume 29, Number 2, 2020


The Joy of Neurons: A Simplified 'Cookbook' for Engineering Brain Cells to Study Disease

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Scientists at The Scripps Research Institute have devised what they call a “neuronal cookbook” for turning skin cells into different types of neurons. The research opens the door to studying common brain conditions such as autism, schizophrenia, addiction and Alzheimer’s disease under reproducible conditions in a dish.

“The brain is incredibly complex, with thousands of different types of cells that are each involved in different diseases,” says Kristin Baldwin, PhD, professor at Scripps Research and senior author of the study. “The problem with understanding and treating the many disorders of the brain is that we cannot reproducibly produce the right types of brain cells. Now we have found more than 75 new ways to rapidly and reproducibly turn skin cells into neurons that we think will be much better representatives of different neurologic diseases than were previously available.

“Having a personalized and nearly unlimited supply of different types of neuronal cells in a dish lets you uncover what’s going wrong in a disease. At the same time, the study supplies a new toolkit to test thousands of drugs on the affected cells to try to reverse the problems, rather than having to test them in mice or other animals, with results that are often difficult to interpret for human conditions,” Baldwin adds. 

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