Human embryonic stem cells have been coaxed into motor neurons that relay messages from the brain to the rest of the body.
The work is a step towards using embryonic stem cell-derived motor neurons to treat such conditions as spinal cord injuries and nervous system diseases such as Lou Gehrig’s.
While such treatments may be many years away, the advance could sooner allow researchers to create motor neuron modeling systems to screen new drugs, says study leader Su-Chun Zhang of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Motor neurons communicate messages from the brain and spinal cord to allow movement in the body.
While embryonic stem cells can replicate indefinitely and become any of the body’s 220 different types of cells and tissues, coaxing them into motor neurons has been difficult, says Zhang.