British scientists have generated brain tissue from human skin are claiming a major breakthrough.  Researchers wrote that their findings could speed up the hunt for new treatments for diseases of the cerebral cortex, such as epilepsy and autism, to neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease.  The findings will enable scientists to study how the human cerebral cortex develops, how it ‘wires up’ and how that can go wrong (a common problem leading to learning disabilities).

Created cerebral cortex cells (those that make up the brain’s grey matter) will allow them to recreate brain diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, in the lab which will provide new insight to the disease and its processes.  It may also allow them to develop and test new drugs to stop the diseases from progressing.

Until now it has only been possible to generate tissue from the cerebral cortex, the area of the brain where most major neurological diseases occur, by using controversial embryonic stem cells, obtained by the destruction of an embryo.  This has meant the supply of brain tissue available for research has been limited due to ethical concerns and limited availability.  Researchers were able to create the two major types of neuron that make up the cerebral cortex from reprogrammed skin cells and show that they were identical to those created with the more controversial embryonic stem cells.

The cerebral cortex makes up 75 percent of the human brain. It is where all the important processes that make us human take place.  It’s the part of the brain that’s responsible for most of the high-level thought processes such as memory, language and consciousness. It is, however, also the major place where disease can occur.  We have been able to take reprogrammed skin cells so they develop into brain stem cells and then essentially replay brain development in the laboratory.

Researchers now have the ability to study brain development and what goes wrong when it is affected by disease in a way they haven’t been able to before.