Astrocytes (the star-shaped red cells in this image) are supporting cells of the central nervous system; they take care of the neurons and they also form the blood-brain barrier. Defects in astrocyte function can contribute to neurodegenerative disease. The astrocytes shown here were developed in a culture dish, from human iPSC or induced pluripotent stem cells (skin cells that were induced to be embryonic in nature and then induced to differentiate as astrocytes). These cells were derived from a patient with Spinal Muscular Atrophy. Since it is not possible to isolate astrocytes from the brain of such patients, the iPS cell procedure (making astrocytes from skin) provides an extraordinary opportunity to study the development of the disease process in these previously inaccessible cells.
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