Scientists Grow Neurons From Urine

Scientists from China have developed a method to generate neural progenitor cells from epithelial-like cells in human urine.

AsianScientist (Dec. 17, 2012) – Scientists from China have developed a method to generate neural progenitor cells from epithelial-like cells in human urine.

Human urine contains kidney epithelial cells that are naturally shed and therefore constitutes a rich source of patient-specific cells that is easily obtainable.

A team of scientists at the Guangzhou Institutes of Biomedicine and Health, led by Prof Pei Duanqing, have developed a new method to reprogram adult urine kidney epithelial cells into neural progenitor cells (NPCs). Their protocol combines an episomal system to deliver reprogramming factors with a chemically defined culture medium.

Reprogramming of adult cells usually takes several weeks before becoming fully pluripotent, which refers to the ability of a cell to generate any cell type in the body.

With the new method, reprogrammed cells preferentially committed to becoming NPCs at an early stage before entering a fully pluripotent state. The NPCs could proliferate when grown in dishes and could differentiate into neuronal subtypes and glial cells.

Importantly, the NPCs were shown to be transgene-free and capable of self-renewal. When transplanted into the brains of newborn rats, the engrafted human NPCs integrated into the host brain and formed both neurons and astrocytes.

To induce reprogramming of adult cells, scientists have typically used viruses to deliver the reprogramming factors. However, Prof Pei’s team avoided the use of viruses by using an episomal system instead. This method has the benefit of excluding the possibility of viral integration of the genes encoding the reprogramming factors, which could pose the risk of tumor formation after transplant.

Tumor formation by rogue undifferentiated cells is a major concern when transplanting reprogrammed cells. With this new method, the scientists did not observe the formation of teratomas, which are tumors derived from pluripotent cells and that contains tissue from all three germ layers.

Prof Pei and colleagues hope their new system, published in Nature Methods, can help the search for new treatments for neurodegenerative disorders.

“We envision that our protocols can be further applied to human urine cells isolated from patients with neural disorders such as Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease or other neurodegenerative diseases. These patient-specific cells should be useful for modeling disease and for drug screening,” the authors wrote in the paper.

The article can be found at: Wang L et al. (2012) Generation of integration-free neural progenitor cells from cells in human urine.


Copyright: Asian Scientist Magazine; Photo: GE Healthcare/Flickr/CC.
Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of AsianScientist or its staff.

David Tan is a post-doctoral researcher at the A*STAR Institute of Medical Biology, Singapore. David received a PhD in stem cell biology from the University of Cambridge, UK.

Related Stories from Asian Scientist