May 24, 2015

Sunday, May 24, 2015
A team of stem cell researchers, led by Mick Bhatia, director of the McMaster Stem Cell and Cancer Research Institute, have discovered that they can convert adult human blood cells into adult sensory neurons.  In other words, they developed a way to take blood samples and turn them into central nervous system and peripheral nervous system neurons.

The central nervous system (CNS) is the part of the nervous system consisting of the brain and spinal cord.  It integrates information it receives from, and coordinates and influences the activity of, all parts of the body and it contains the majority of the nervous system.

The peripheral nervous system (PNS) is the part of the nervous system that consists of the nerves and ganglia outside of the brain and spinal cord. The main function of the PNS is to connect the CNS to the limbs and organs, essentially serving as a communication relay going back and forth between the brain and the extremities. It is divided into the somatic nervous system and the autonomic nervous system.

It is no secret that understanding pain and how to treat it is complex and limited and, until now, scientists have been unable to obtain a piece of a patient’s neural system to learn more.  According to Bhatia,
"We can actually take a patient's blood sample, as routinely performed in a doctor's office, and with it we can produce one million sensory neurons, that make up the peripheral nerves in short order with this new approach. We can also make central nervous system cells, as the blood to neural conversion technology we developed creates neural stem cells during the process of conversion."
In addition, the researchers tested their process using both fresh blood and cryopreserved blood. “Since blood samples are taken and frozen with many clinical trials, this allows them […] to go back and explore questions around pain or neuropathy to run tests on neurons created from blood samples of patients taken in past clinical trials where responses and outcomes have already been recorded."

Consequently, this new perspective will allow researchers to study neurological diseases and improve treatments. It could mean blood tests might one day predict prognoses of certain diseases long before symptoms arise.  This could also mean the discovery of new medications that more effectively treat pain.  In other words, there may come a day when there is no more need for opioids to merely numb pain, which in turn reduces drug dependency.
"You don't want to feel sleepy or unaware, you just want your pain to go away. But, up until now, no one's had the ability and required technology to actually test different drugs to find something that targets the peripheral nervous system and not the central nervous system in a patient specific, or personalized manner."
Therefore, this research not only leads to a better understanding of neurological diseases, but also leads us to more effective, and less harmful, individualized treatment as well as the ability to prevent or delay the onset of neurological problems.

Blood to feeling: Scientists turn adult human blood cells into neurons

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I have an educational background is in Psychology and Sociology. In addition, I have worked with many diverse individuals of all ages, with varying degrees of mental and/or physical illness. I enjoy following current news and research that impacts my area of expertise.

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