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Canadian scientists find new way to convert blood cells into sensory neurons

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By NewsGram Staff Writer

In a revolutionary new study, conducted by a team of stem cell scientists led by Mick Bhatia from the McMaster University, Canada, has discovered how to turn adult human blood cells into brain cells, opening the doors to better understanding of every disease in the body.

According to the research, the team can now directly convert adult human blood cells into both central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) neurons as well as neurons in the peripheral nervous system that are responsible for pain, temperature and itch perception. It directly means that, now, about one million sensory neurons can be produced from a blood sample.

This lead to the conclusion that now doctors can more easily study how a person’s nervous system cells react and respond to various stimuli.

On being asked about the advantages of the new study, Bhatia, Director of the McMaster Stem Cell and Cancer Research Institute, explained, “Now we can take blood samples and make the main cell types of neurological systems – the central nervous system and the peripheral nervous system – in a dish that is specialized for each patient. Nobody has ever done this with adult blood. Ever.”

Bhatia and fellow scientists successfully tested their breakthrough process using both fresh as well as frozen human blood.

Bhatia said, “We can also make central nervous system cells, as the blood to neural conversion technology we developed creates neural stem cells during the process of conversion.”

As per the study, the revolutionary patented direct conversion technology has “broad and immediate applications.” It paves the way for the discovery of new pain drugs that don’t just numb the perception of pain, but actually treat it.

Scientists can actually take a patient’s blood sample, and with its help, they can produce one million sensory neurons that make up the peripheral nerves in short order with this new approach.

The study can help the researchers to think and learn about any disease and improving treatments such as: Why is it that certain people feel pain versus numbness? Is this something genetic? Can the neuropathy that diabetic patients experience be mimicked in a dish?

Bhatia, while explaining the results of the study, said that the research will help to understand the response of cells to different drugs and different stimulation responses, and will allow to provide individualized or personalized medical therapy for patients suffering with neuropathic pain.

Akbar Panju, medical director of the Michael G. DeGroote Institute for Pain Research and Care, said, “This bench to bedside research is very exciting and will have a major impact on the management of neurological diseases, particularly neuropathic pain.”

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What Triggers Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?

IoPPN professor Carmine Pariante stressed that while the study's main finding is a useful addition to scant scientific knowledge about CFS

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CFS
Lauren Pestikas sits as she receives an infusion of the drug ketamine during a 45-minute session at an outpatient clinic in Chicago on July 25, 2018. VOA

Scientists exploring what may trigger a complex disorder known as chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) have found clues in the way some people’s immune systems respond more actively to a health attack.

A severe illness characterized by long-term physical and mental fatigue, CFS is thought to affect up to 17 million people worldwide and around 250,000 people in Britain.

Sufferers are often bed-bound and unable to carry out basic daily activities like washing and feeding themselves.

The researchers used a drug known as interferon alpha to create a model of the syndrome and found that patients whose immune response to treatment was hyperactive or exaggerated were more likely to then develop severe fatigue.

CFS
Russell’s team used this knowledge and measured fatigue and immune system markers in 55 patients before, during and after treatment with interferon alpha.

“For the first time, we have shown that people who are prone to develop a CFS-like illness have an overactive immune system, both before and during a challenge to the immune system,” said Alice Russell of King’s College London’s Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN), who led the work.

The condition, as well as research into it, is highly contentious, in part because its possible causes and range of debilitating symptoms are poorly understood.

Interferon alpha is used as a treatment for hepatitis C infection, and activates the immune system in the same way as a powerful infection. Many patients who receive interferon alpha experience extreme fatigue during treatment, and some continue to feel chronic fatigue for many months after the drug course is completed.

Vaccination, CFS
Biologist Jason Plyler prepares to test at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda. VOA

Russell’s team used this knowledge and measured fatigue and immune system markers in 55 patients before, during and after treatment with interferon alpha.

They found that the 18 of those 55 who went on to develop a CFS-like illness had a hyperactive immune system before treatment, and an highly overactive response during treatment. “(This suggests) people who have an exaggerated immune response to a trigger may be more at risk of developing CFS,” Russell told reporters at a briefing about the findings.

Also Read: Regular Sleep in Childhood Leads to Healthy BMI Later

IoPPN professor Carmine Pariante stressed that while the study’s main finding is a useful addition to scant scientific knowledge about CFS – also known as myalgic encephalopathy (ME) – it offers few clues on how to treat, cure or prevent it.

“It’s a light in the fog,” he told reporters. “But a better understanding of the biology underlying the development of CFS is needed to help patients.” (VOA)