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Scientists Turn Stem Cells Into Neurons


10/19/2005 5:12:35 PM

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin, Madison reported Sunday that they've whipped up an exciting — but intricate — new recipe that could someday treat spinal cord injuries or provide a cure for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, better known as Lou Gehrig's disease. Step one: Take human embryonic stem cells, the microscopic dots that have brought condemnation from the pope, opposition from the president and people generally opposed to abortion. Add pinches of chemicals, dashes of other biological ingredients implicated in brain growth at just the right moment and voila: brain cells called motor neurons that control every body movement. The conclusion, reported online in science journal Nature Biotechnology, is important for two reasons. First, stem cell scientists have struggled to accomplish what researcher Su-Chun Zhang and his colleagues have just accomplished. It took Zhang's team two years of tedious trial-and-error experiments to direct stem cells to turn into motor neurons. Perhaps more important, Zhang's recipe shows researchers that timing is everything when adding their chemical cocktails to stem cell stews. Stem cells are vulnerable to successful human manipulation for only the briefest of moments — and at different intervals depending on the results each researcher craves.

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