Urine is pretty amazing stuff: It can power everything from personal generators to plasma thrusters in space. But the power of pee isn’t limited to generating energy; new research proves that we can actually make human brain cells from urine. Scientists in China have begun experimenting with neurons that have been converted from cells present in human urine, which could have some major implications for the future of stem cell research.
Researchers aren’t instantly transforming pee into brain cells, but instead isolating the kidney epithelial cells that are present in everyone’s urine. With the kidney epithelial cells as a base, the scientists are slowly converting them into pluripotent stem cells–the “magic” cells that can be grown into any human tissue.
It usually takes scientists about three and a half weeks to grow stem cells in the lab, using tissue biopsies or blood samples, but these new pee cells take only twelve days to grow the coveted pluripotent cells. The project, under the guidance of Duanqing Pei and the Guangzhou Institute of Biomedicine and Health, was able to grow stable stem cells from urine, a feat not achieved in the past. Within four weeks, the team grew functioning neurons.
The pee-based stem cells were much more stable than those created from blood and biopsies, and they grew in half the time. If these cells prove effective it could be a huge step forward for stem cell research, because scientists could simple harvest convertible cells by having donors pee in a cup instead of performing invasive procedures.