Harvard researchers have succeeded in reprogramming adult mouse skin cells directly into the type of motor neurons damaged in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), best known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, and spinal muscular atropy (SMA). These new cells, which researchers are calling induced motor neurons (iMNs), can be used to study the development of the paralyzing diseases and to develop treatments for them.
“One of the utilities [of this new method for producing motor neurons] is it makes a much more rapid way to grow motor neurons. This could allow us to test very rapidly whether a new therapeutic is likely to be effective,” said Kevin Eggan, leader of the Harvard team of stem cell researchers that has succeeded in reprogramming adult mouse skin cells directly into the type of motor neurons damaged in Lou Gehrig’s disease and spinal muscular atrophy.
In a paper given “Immediate Early Publication” online by Cell Stem Cell, the Eggan team reports that the cells they are calling iMNs appear to be fully functional. “One of the most important things we’ve done is show that when you put them into the embryo they function normally like motor neurons,” Eggan said in an interview. “They move to the right place and function on their own.”