Page URL:

Pee-brain: cells in urine converted to neurons

17 December 2012
Appeared in BioNews 686

Scientists have converted kidney cells from human urine into brain cells, bypassing the need for embryonic stem cells. Converting mature cells from one type to another through the creation of induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells) has been done before, however the current study makes two notable changes to improve the speed and safety of the procedure.

Firstly, previous studies have collected cells for this procedure via a blood or skin sample. The use of kidney cells isolated from a urine sample is a less invasive method.

'We work on childhood disorders and it's easier to get a child to give a urine sample than to prick them for blood', said medical geneticist Dr James Ellis from the University of Toronto, who was not involved in the study, to Nature News.

Secondly, the production of iPS cells usually involves infecting the skin or blood cells with a virus containing the genes required for reprogramming the cells to an immature state. The viral DNA becomes incorporated into the cells own genome, causing it to potentially become more unstable and prone to developing harmful mutations that could result in tumours.

Researchers led by Professor Duanqing Pei at the Guangzhou Institute of Biomedicine and Health in China, instead chose to infect the kidney cells with a circular piece of DNA from bacteria. This DNA carried the genes required to reprogramme the cell, but did not become incorporated into the cells own genome.

The technique was faster and may avoid the problems of tumour development, although the group has yet to show if this is the case long-term. 'This could definitely speed things up', remarked Dr Ellis.

Infecting the kidney cells with the bacterial DNA, transformed them into an immature form of brain cells called neural progenitors. These progenitors were able to develop into mature brain cells; both neurons and glia. The cells were then transplanted into rat brains and a month later were still alive and had not formed tumours.

This non-invasive technique could make it easier to generate brain cells from a patient, which scientists could study to better understand neurodegenerative diseases and potentially test new treatments on.

Brain cells made from urine
Nature News |  9 December 2012
Cells Harvested From Human Urine Used to Make Stem Cells
Wired |  11 December 2012
Generation of integration-free neural progenitor cells from cells in human urine
Nature Methods |  9 December 2012
Turning urine into brain cells
Guardian |  9 December 2012
1 December 2014 - by Siobhan Chan 
Nerve cells that react to pain and cold in the same way as human neurons have been formed in the lab, scientists report...
28 January 2013 - by Michelle Downes 
In what is thought to be a first, stem cells have been used to generate human kidney tissue...
7 January 2013 - by Dr Greg Ball 
Immune cells that can recognise and kill cancer cells have been grown from induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs)...
3 December 2012 - by Dr Greg Ball 
Induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells have been created from a routine blood sample by researchers at the University of Cambridge in the UK, marking an improvement over existing experimental methods that require more invasive tissue biopsies....
12 November 2012 - by Dr Rachael Panizzo 
The Wellcome Trust and Medical Research Council have announced a £12.75 million investment to create a database of induced pluripotent stem) cells....
8 October 2012 - by Sarah Pritchard 
A team of Japanese researchers has created mouse eggs from stem cells and has fertilised them using IVF to produce baby mice. It is the first time scientists have reported producing properly functioning eggs using this type of stem cell....
25 June 2012 - by Dr Daniel Grimes 
Human embryonic stem cells have, for the first time, been used to grow a crucial part of the eye, a paper in Cell Stem Cell reports. It is hoped that in the future transplantation of such tissue could help visually impaired people recover their sight...
28 May 2012 - by Helen Brooks 
For the first time, scientists have managed to turn heart attack patients' skin cells into healthy beating heart cells in the lab...
to add a Comment.

By posting a comment you agree to abide by the BioNews terms and conditions

Syndicate this story - click here to enquire about using this story.