The conversion of human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) into neural progenitor cells, a process developed by scientists at the Burnham Institute for Medical Research (Burnham), may be ideal for transplantation.
Lead researcher Dr. Alexei Terskikh says that the new method to create these committed neural precursor cells (C-NPCs) does not produce mutations in the cells, and may be useful for clinical applications.
When the C-NPCs created using the Terskikh protocol were transplanted into mice during an experiment, they became active neurons and integrated into the cortex and olfactory bulb.
The researchers say that the transplanted cells did not generate tumour outgrowth.
"The uniform conversion of embryonic stem cells into neural progenitors is the first step in the development of cell-based therapies for neurodegenerative disorders or spinal injuries.
Many of the methods used to generate neural precursor cells for research in the lab would never work in therapeutic applications. This protocol is very well suited for clinical application because it is robust, controllable and reproducible," said Dr. Terskikh.
According to the researcher, extensively moving cells from plate to plate to expand the numbers of neural precursor cells limits the plasticity of the cells, can introduce mutations and may lead to the expression of oncogenes.
Dr. Terskikh claims that the new protocol avoids this by using efficient conversion of hESCs into primary neuroepithelial cells without the extensive passaging.
During the course of the study, the researchers were able to rapidly neuralise the hESCs by culturing them in small clusters in a liquid suspension. They revealed that the cells developed the characteristic "rosettes" seen in neuroepithelial cells.
The C-NPCs were later cultured in monolayers. Immunochemical and RT-PCR analysis of the cells demonstrated that they were uniformly C-NPCs.
Immunostaining and imaging showed that the cells could be differentiated into three distinct types of neural cells.
The researchers later showed that the C-NPCs differentiated into neurons after transplantation into the brains of neonatal mice.
The study has been published in the journal Cell Death and Differentiation.