New methods for deriving pluripotent stem cells from ALS patient tissue have created a promising new resource for investigating disease mechanisms and screening for new candidate therapies (see April 2015 news). However, these approaches suffer from limitations with respect to ease of tissue collection, storage and generation of large numbers of reprogrammed cells. In the May 21 Cell Reports online, researchers from McMaster University in Ontario, Canada led by Mickie Bhatia report on a new method for directly reprogramming adult blood cells into glia and a variety of neuronal subtypes of the central and peripheral nervous systems. By combining a previously published direct reprogramming approach based on expression of the transcription factor OCT4 (Mitchell et al., 2014) with chemical inhibition of SMAD4 and GSK3, co-first authors Jong-Hee Lee and Ryan Mitchell were able to directly reprogram adult blood cells into neural progenitor cells without an intermediate pluripotent state. The approach was successful with both fresh and cryopreserved blood, opening the doors to a wealth of stored patient samples previously collected in the context of clinical trials. Click here to read about this exciting breakthrough.
Lee JH, Mitchell RR, McNicol JD, Shapovalova Z, Laronde S, Tanasijevic B, Milsom C, Casado F, Fiebig-Comyn A, Collins TJ, Singh KK, Bhatia M. Single Transcription Factor Conversion of Human Blood Fate to NPCs with CNS and PNS Developmental Capacity. Cell Reports. June 9, 2015: 11, 1-10. Pubmed.