Washington: A novel way of converting human skin cells directly into functional brain cells is likely to revolutionise regenerative medicine and drug discovery.

Sheng Ding's latest research from Gladstone Institutes offers new hope for tackling degenerative diseases like Alzheimer's, as well as for the possibility of cell-replacement therapy to reduce the trauma of millions of people affected by these irreversible conditions.

Ding, professor of pharmaceutical chemistry at the University of California-Los Angeles, used two genes and a microRNA to convert a skin sample from a 55-year-old woman directly into brain cells. MicroRNAs are tiny strands of genetic material that regulate almost every process in our cells.

Ding's research extends Gladstone scientist Shinya Yamanaka's work who offered a method for avoiding the embryonic stem cells and creating an entirely new platform for fundamental studies of human disease, reports the journal Cell Stem Cell.

Use of embryonic stem cells is controversial, which is why Yamanaka's discovery of an alternate way to obtain human stem cells is so important, according to a Gladstone statement.

"This technology should allow us to very rapidly model neurodegenerative diseases in a dish by making nerve cells from individual patients in just a matter of days rather than the months required previously," said Stuart Lipton, who collaborated with Ding in the study.

Lipton directs the Del E. Webb Neuroscience, Aging and Stem Cell Research Center at Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute.

(Agencies)