Making brain cells from urine to help fight diseases

Summary:The new method offers researchers a speedy way to produce plenty of neurons using cells discarded in human urine -- helping to develop therapies for neurodegenerative diseases.

Having plenty of brain cells available would be really useful for scientists studying and developing therapies for neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s.

Now, scientists have found a relatively straightforward way to persuade the cells discarded in human urine to turn into these valuable neurons – without having to involve embryonic stem cells. Nature News reports.

Duanqing Pei and his colleagues at China's Guangzhou Institutes of Biomedicine and Health can transform ordinary cells present in urine into neural progenitor cells — the precursors of brain cells – which could help create cells tailored to individuals.

And since these neural progenitors proliferate (pictured) in culture – unlike neurons -- researchers can produce plenty of them.

Researchers routinely reprogram skin and blood cells into induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells, which can go on become any cell in the body. But since urine can be collected from nearly any patient, these progenitor cells could be produced more quickly and from more patients than current methods.

In one experiment, they produced round colonies of reprogrammed cells from urine that resembled pluripotent stem cells after only 12 days – that’s half the time it usually takes to produce iPS cells.

When cultured further, the colonies took on the shape of neural stem cells. When they transferred the cells to a growth medium used for neurons, these reprogrammed cells went on to form functional neurons in the lab.

When transplanted into newborn rat brains, the cells had taken on the shape and molecular markers of neurons a month later.

The work was published in Nature Methods last week.

[Via Nature News]

Image: Lihui Wang, Guangjin Pan and Duanqing Pei

This post was originally published on

Topics: Innovation


Janet Fang has written for Nature, Discover and the Point Reyes Light. She is currently a lab technician at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. She holds degrees from the University of California, Berkeley and Columbia University. She is based in New York. Follow her on Twitter.

zdnet_core.socialButton.googleLabel Contact Disclosure

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Related Stories

The best of ZDNet, delivered

You have been successfully signed up. To sign up for more newsletters or to manage your account, visit the Newsletter Subscription Center.
Subscription failed.