A Californian team say they have managed to convert human skin cells directly into functioning brain cells.
The scientists manipulated the process by which DNA is transcribed within foetal skin cells to create cells which behaved like neurons.
The technique had previously been demonstrated in mice, says the report in Nature.
It could be used for neurological research, and might conceivably be used to create brain cells for transplant.
The scientists used genetically modified viruses to introduce four different "transcription factors" into foetal skin cells. These transcription factors play a role in the "reading" of DNA and the encoding of proteins within the cell.
We showed that it is possible to convert human skin cells directly into cells which look and behave like nerve cells”
Marius WernigStanford University
They found the introduction of these four transcription factors had the effect of switching a small portion of the skin cells into cells which functioned like neurons.