Chicago scientists grow neurons from stem cells

Basal forebrain cholinergic neurons are crucial to the progression of Alzheimer's Disease.

March 4, 2011

By Gabriel Spitzer

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(Courtesy of Chris Bissonnette)
A neuron grown in the lab from an embryonic stem cell.

Scientists at Northwestern University say they’ve figured out how to grow a kind of brain cell that’s lost in Alzheimer’s Disease. The cells make circuits critical for forming new memories, and they’re among the first to die in Alzheimer’s. Researchers at Northwestern Medicine coaxed human embryonic stem cells to grow into those neurons. They also developed an alternate strategy, where they got skin cells to mimic stem cells, which they were then able to grow into the neurons. 

John Kessler, Chairman of Neurology at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, said the breakthrough could accelerate research into therapies.

“Because we have the human neurons right in front of us in a tissue culture dish, we can screen literally thousands – actually, tens of thousands -- of drugs at a time, to find one that may work in the disease,” Kessler said.

Down the line, scientists hope to be able to transplant the new cells into Alzheimer’s patients whose own neurons have died. The findings are published in the journal Stem Cells.