Hunger leads animals to travel vast distances in search of food. It can even dislodge a human being from that cosy spot on the sofa in the middle of a great tv show. Cells have similarly evolved to migrate towards a food source. Nerve growth factor (NGF), discovered by the late Nobel laureate and centenarian Rita Levi-Montalcini, is the cuisine of choice for neurons. So powerful is its appeal, it can even induce some cells to transform into neurons, which may help treat disorders where the nervous system deteriorates. Scientists working with Levi-Montalcini showed that human NGF can be manufactured in large amounts, for potential use as a drug. Growing nervous tissue in the presence of either artificial NGF (pictured right) or natural NGF (pictured left), showed that the manmade stuff works just as well as Nature's own. In both cases cells transformed into neurons, extending long processes called neurites.
Written by Lux Fatimathas
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