Researchers have recently found a simple method to convert human skin cells into sensory neurons detecting pain, touch, itch and other bodily sensations.
These neurons are also affected by spinal cord injury and involved in Friedreich's ataxia, a devastating and currently incurable neurodegenerative disease that largely strikes children.
The discovery from The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) allows this broad class of human neurons and their sensory mechanisms to be studied relatively easily in the laboratory. The "induced sensory neurons" generated by this method should also be useful in the testing of potential new therapies for pain, itch and related conditions.
Associate Professor Kristin K. Baldwin, an investigator in TSRI' Dorris Neuroscience Center said thattThis method was rapid, robust and scalable and therefore they hope that these induced sensory neurons would allow experts to identify new compounds that block pain and itch and to better understand and treat neurodegenerative disease and spinal cord injury.
For the study, the team used a cell-reprogramming technique (similar to those used to reprogram skin cells into stem cells) to generate human DRG-type sensory neurons from ordinary skin cells called fibroblasts.
The feat means that scientists now can relatively easily study DRG sensory neurons derived from many different people to better understand the diversity of human sensory responses and sensory disorders and advance a "personalized medicine" approach.
The study is published in Nature Neuroscience.