07/06/2012 17:04 BST | Updated 07/06/2012 18:24 BST

Skin Cells 'Turned Into Fully Functional Brain Cells'

For the first time scientists have managed to turn skin cells into fully functional brain cells.

It may sound Frankenstein-like to some, but far from creating a monster, the breakthrough could mean a huge leap forward in the treatment of neurological conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, the research team claimed.

Scientists at the Gladstone Institutes in San Francisco achieved the biological feat by transferring a single gene called Sox2 into both mouse and human skin cells.

Within a month they had developed on their own into an interconnected, functional network of brain cells.

This research comes at a time of renewed focus on Alzheimer's disease – the most common form of dementia - which currently afflicts 496,000 people in the UK alone.

Yet there are no approved medications to prevent or reverse the progression of this debilitating disease.

Lead author Dr Yadong Huang, however, believes his team’s work could greatly speed up the development of drug treatments.

He said: “Many drug candidates - especially those developed for neurodegenerative diseases - fail in clinical trials because current models don't accurately predict the drug's effects on the human brain.

Professor Clive Ballard, Director of Research at the Alzheimer's Society, meanwhile, also backed the study as being a firm step towards better treatments for dementia.

He told The Huffington Post UK: "There is potential for new treatments for Alzheimer's disease through stem cell research. This study takes a step towards streamlining the process that is already being used to turn skin cells into stem cells. We now need more research to determine if stem cells could be of benefit to people living with dementia.

"One in three people over 65 will develop dementia. It is vitally important that we continue to research new drugs that could enable us to create a better life for people with dementia today and ultimately a cure for tomorrow."

The study was published online today in Cell Stem Cell.