Fat Cells To Nerve Cells

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Fat Cells To Nerve Cells

Fat Cells To Nerve Cells
Nerve Cell. Image Credit: Cell Image Library

Fat Cells To Nerve Cells

Researchers from Duke University Medical Center have discovered a method for changing fat cells to

nerve cells

. With the assistance of scientists from Artecel Sciences, Inc., the researchers were successful in converting adult adipose stem cells into nerve cells. Adipose tissue is a kind of

connective tissue

that stores

fat

.



How Did They Do It?



The researchers used fat

stem cells

gathered from human liposuction procedures and treated them with certain growth factors and chemicals. The cells were then cultured in a lab. Researchers say that the fat cells began to resemble nerve cells and produced nerve cell proteins within only a few hours after being treated. The "new" nerve cells survived for several days. The researchers are confident that with further investigation they will be able to extend the life span of these nerve cells.



While news of this breakthrough seems promising, there are still many questions that remain unanswered about the fat derived nerve cells. Although they look like nerve cells and produce neuronal

proteins

, it remains to be seen if they can function as nerve cells in a living organism. New experiments are being planned to see how well the cells function in living subjects.



Researchers are hopeful that the new nerve cells may one day be used in the treatment of diseases of the

central nervous system

and related disorders. Initial studies of these cells in animals will concentrate on the treatment of stroke and injuries of the spinal cord.



Adipose Tissue



Adipose or fat tissue stores fat which is used to provide energy for the body. There are two types of adipose tissue in the body; brown fat and white fat. The majority of adipose tissue in the body is white. White fat stores excess energy and helps to insulate the body, while brown fat burns energy and generates heat. Brown fat derives its color from the abundance of

blood vessels

and

mitochondria

present throughout the tissue. Adipose can be found below the skin and surrounding internal organs.



Nerve Cells



Nerve cells or neurons are the basic unit of the nervous system. All cells of the nervous system are comprised of neurons. Neurons contain nerve processes which are "finger-like" projections that extend from the nerve cell body. The nerve processes consist of axons and dendrites which are able to conduct and transmit signals. Neurons are classified as either motor, sensory, or interneurons. Motor neurons carry information from the central nervous system to

organs

, glands, and

muscles

. Sensory neurons send information to the central nervous system from internal organs or from external stimuli. Interneurons relay signals between motor and sensory neurons.



More Nerve Cell Studies



Other studies have focused on the creation of nerve cells from fat cells and other sources. In a

Lund University study

, researchers in Sweden have developed a technique for creating various kinds of nerve cells from adult

skin

tissue. By activating specific skin cell

genes

, connective tissue cells called fibroblasts were reprogrammed into developing into neurons. The researchers envision that with further research on how these reprogrammed neurons function in the brain, a patient's own skin cells may one day be used to treat his/her disease.



In addition, an umbilical cord

stem cell study

has revealed that umbilical cord stem cells can be used to create cells of the nervous system known as

glial cells

. These cells help to insulate nerve cells. This discovery may help in the development of new treatments for spinal cord injuries and diseases of the nervous system.



Learn more about the Duke University study: