Scientists have transformed skin cells from patients with Huntington’s disease into the type of brain cell affected by the disorder. The resulting mass of neurons serves as a new tool to study the degenerative, and eventually fatal, neurological condition, according to the researchers. The study showed that the patients’ nerve cells — converted directly from patients’ skin cells — exhibited “symptoms” of the disorder, including DNA damage, dysfunctional mitochondria and cell death. Correcting for malfunctioning genes in these reprogrammed neurons prevented the cell death that is characteristic of Huntington’s disease, an inherited genetic disorder that causes cognitive decline and involuntary muscle movements. Symptoms typically appear in people with the disease when they are ages 30 to 50 and steadily worsen over time. Huntington’s disease and other inherited brain conditions are challenging to study because it is difficult to obtain samples of neurons from living patients. However, skin cells are easy to collect from patients and share the same genetic blueprint — and disease-causing mutations — as brain cells.
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