One of the hot topics in medical science today is the use of pluripotent stem cells to repair tissue damage that is otherwise untreatable. That however is something of a silver lining, and there is definitely a cloud that goes with it, such as the risk of stem cells developing into unintended cell types or even becoming cancerous. Researchers at the University of Wisconsin, Madison however have successfully convert adult, skin stem cells into neural progenitors, skipping the pluripotent stem cell stage, and thus the risks associated with it.
After harvesting the skin cells, the researchers treated them with a modified form of the Sendai virus, a type of cold virus. This virus has not been used for this purpose before, but does offer some advantages over those that are used, such as not entering the cell's DNA and it can be killed by heat within a day. Once the cells had their genes changed so they could become neural progenitors, the researchers heated the sample enough to kill the virus and waited thirteen days before harvesting the progenitor cells. These cells actually are a kind of stem cell but are not pluripotent, as they are only able to develop into any of the three major types of neural cells. After implantation into newborn mice, the cells grew normally and showed no sign of defects or tumors.
Currently this research is just proof-of-concept with more work to do, but it is certainly promising work. Potentially we could see neural progenitors created from the skin of ALS patients and other diseases to treat if not cure them.
Source: University of Wisconsin, Madison