Medical Research

J. David Gladstone Institutes

Sheng Ding, Steve Finkbeiner, Shinya Yamanaka
San Francisco, CA
June 2012

The human brain can carry out more operations per second than the most powerful computer. It also has capacities no computer is likely to ever have, such as consciousness and self- awareness. Thanks to human induced pluripotent stem cells and other induced neural precursor cells, scientists can now make, in theory, any type of brain cell from adult skin cells. Still, only a few types of human brain cells have been made, and the process for making them remains inefficient. The investigators propose to establish an interdisciplinary program to understand how cells that are reprogrammed to pluripotency can be instructed to generate each type of cell in the brain. They have assembled a team that can create, in the laboratory, a number of cell types that compose the brain. In this project they propose to make certain brain cells (e.g., von Economo neurons that are thought to confer unique abilities, such as emotional and social salience, to the human brain) that do not exist in standard laboratory animals. This work could lay the foundation for both the development of cellular therapies to treat neurological diseases and for a greater understanding of what makes us unique as humans.

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