Converting one cell type into another – a process called transdifferentiation – doesn’t occur naturally in humans, or in most other creatures for that matter, though it can be induced artificially. But why would researchers want to make a cell switch identities? Well, just imagine if a patient had a disease where certain cells were damaged or dying. Making some of the patient’s other cells adopt the identity of the diseased cells could help to repair or replace the damaged tissue without the need for donor cells or organs. Researchers have now identified an antibody that binds to bone marrow cells and induces them to become nerve cells – their characteristic long skinny projections seen here (stained green) tipped with growth-directing regions called growth cones (stained red). Extracting a person’s bone marrow and converting it into nerve cells could potentially provide a convenient source of cells for repairing brain or spinal cord injury.
Written by Ruth Williams
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