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Research Field Neurological, Drug discovery

Redirecting Cell Fate

Neuronal cell death is a hallmark of several neurological disorders, including Alzheimer’s disease; but translating that knowledge into effective treatments has proven to be a considerable technical challenge (1). Gong Chen, Professor of Biology and Verne M. Willaman Chair in Life Sciences at Pennsylvania State University, is one of those pursuing a new direction: using a cocktail of small molecules to turn astrocytes into neurons. Driven by the belief that mainstream approaches to Alzheimer’s – the most prevalent neurodegenerative disorder – have failed, Chen believes the way to tackle the real underlying aspects of the disease is by replenishing the degenerated neurons. “I don’t think that the past 100 years have missed the main cause in terms of triggering Alzheimer’s disease,” he says. “The real problem is that by the time Aβ and tau plaques are removed, they’ve done enough damage to the patient’s brain by driving neuronal death and degeneration. Without generating functional new neurons to replace the lost neurons, it is difficult to restore the lost brain functions.”

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  1. M Fricker et al., “Neuronal Cell Death,” Physiol Rev, 98, 2, 813-880. (2018) PMID: 29488822.
  2. L Zhang et al., “Small Molecules Efficiently Reprogram Human Astroglial Cells into Functional Neurons,” Cell Stem Cell, 17, 6, 735-747, (2015) PMID: 26481520.
  3. J C Yin et al., “Chemical Conversion of Human Fetal Astrocytes into Neurons through Modulation of Multiple Signalling Pathways,” Stem Cell Reports, [Epub ahead of print] (2019). PMID: 30745031.

About the Author

Jonathan James

As an assistant editor for The Translational Scientist, I can combine two of my passions; translational science research and science communication. Having thrown myself into various editing and other science communication gigs whilst at University I came to realise the importance of good quality content that delivers in an exciting and engaging way.

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