What Keeps a Nobel Laureate Up All Night?
We close with the enigma of integration, with Professor Sir John Gurdon from Cambridge University.
John - It is possible to take a tiny piece of skin from an animal or human and to grow that into functional cells such as heart. This has been done in some elegant work by Bern and others. A series of steps are involved, but the end result is, that you can see thousands of cells beating in unison in the laboratory, all under culture conditions (that means usually cultured in a flask or on a substrate). These cells then behave just like you might hope for a heart so that they are beating in unison and as I say, several thousand of them. However, when these cells are transplanted to a recipient, they do not integrate properly into the recipient's own heart. They go on behaving independently and are therefore not readily useful to a patient.
The nervous system work is comparable. It has been possible to inject some brain cells into a Parkinson's patient and the patient shows some benefit of these implanted cells for a few months. However, in a particular case, such a patient eventually died some 17 years later and they found that the implanted cells was still alive or their progeny were, were over this long period of time, but had actually made no useful contribution to relief of the Parkinson's condition.
Having got cells which seem to work very effectively in culture in the laboratory, there is still some problem in getting such cells to integrate functionally into a recipient. It seems to me that this is one of the future challenges of this field.
It's really rather remarkable to me that one can go from a tiny piece of skin to functional heart or functional brain cells in the laboratory, and yet, that final step of getting them to actually integrate and continue their useful function in the patient does still have to be solved.
Hannah - That was Professor John Gurdon from Cambridge University presenting his fascinating facts on the progression with birth of brain cells or neural stem cell biology and what we have yet to learn in order to successfully integrate new cells into the brain and body.