Researchers at Stanford University successfully converted skin cells from mice into neural precursor cells that make up the three main parts of the nervous system.

The ability to directly convert the skin cells means stem cells may not actually be required for cell transformation.

“We are thrilled about the prospects for potential medical use of these cells,” said Marius Wernig, MD, assistant professor of pathology and a member of Stanford’s Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine.

It only took three weeks and the addition of three transcription factors to transform the skin cells into neural precursor cells – highly efficient compared to the process with embryonic stem cells. It’s a more direct way of generating specific types of cells for therapy or research.

Dr. Wernig emphasized that more research is needed before any human transplantation experiments can be conducted.

The study is published online Jan. 30 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.