Researchers in China have found a way to transform cells excreted in human urine into neural progenitor cells, the precursors of brain cells.
These cells can be used to study neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson's, and they may also help researchers produce cells custom-tailored to patients "more quickly and from more patients than current methods" allow, Nature magazine reported.
A paper describing the research was published online Dec. 9 in Nature Methods. "We combined an episomal system to deliver reprogramming factors with a chemically defined culture medium to reprogram epithelial-like cells from human urine into [neural progenitor cells]," the study's abstract states.
In a laboratory setting, the cells were shown to "self-renew and... differentiate into multiple functional neuronal subtypes and glial cells."
While the study's authors wrote that their method still needs to be tested in living tissue, they say it offers researchers key advantages.
For starters, the method does not use embryonic stem cells. In addition to the ethical issues presented by that method, human embryonic stem cells have been observed to form tumors, a 2009 report notes.