Somatosensory neurons are the nerve cells that give us our sense of touch. It enables us to feel the world through tactile experiences that might be lost in case of numbness and paralysis. This distinct sense shapes our life’s experiences as well as protects us from dangers. It’s what enables us to see the potential risk of something like a hot stove or a sharp edge.
Scientists from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) are studying stem cells on how to repair sensation to those patients with paralysis. The research from UCLA, published in the journal Stem Cell Reports, is remarkably the first in-depth study on human stem cells to become somatosensory neurons which could inevitably solve paralysis problems in the future.
The research is being headed by Samantha Butler, an associate professor of neurobiology in UCLA who is also member of the Broad Stem Cell Research Center, the study is based on past research by Butler and her fellow scientists in September. Butler and her colleagues studied how certain proteins could develop somatosensory neuron in chicken embryos. Their most recent research took the data gathered from the past findings and applied them to human embryos.
Somatosensory neurons, a special type of neurons in the spinal cord are responsible to convey information from our body to the central nervous system enabling us to feel our tactile senses. If the sense of touch is impaired like people who are paralyzed, it could be difficult for them to know pain sensations like touching a hot object and otherwise would cause them to get burned.
The scientists discovered two types of sensory neurons as a result of adding specific bone morphogenetic protein called BMP4 and retinoic acid to human embryonic stem cells. DI1 somatosensory neurons are the ones responsible for proprioception and DI3 somatosensory neurons enable people to feel sense of pressure.
The researchers note that these somatosensory neurons can be produced by reprogramming an individual’s mature cells such as the skin cells. This recent development to create somatosensory neurons with our own reprogrammed cells can lead to the potential of creating a treatment that restores the sense of touch for paralyzed persons.
The study is still on the process and being sampled on the spinal cord of a mice to understand if the cells would integrate into the central nervous system to become functional.
Butler said that this is still a long path of intensive research, they haven’t solved yet how to restore the sense of touch but this recent developments is the first major step to create somatosensory neurons.
This major breakthrough is very important for all of humanity as no one before discovered to make a sensory neuron prototype. In the long run, strokes and other medical cases that loosed sensation could benefit from this study.
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