Stem cell study sheds new light on Parkinson’s disease

For the first time, scientists have successfully generated stem cells from one of the swiftly advancing form of Parkinson’s disease, according to a study published in the journal Nature Communications.

This novel development will allow scientists to create a lab-based model of the disease to understand what causes the death of certain nerves, thereby facilitating further research into the condition.

The University of Edinburgh spearheaded the research in collaboration with the University College London and scientists were awarded a £300,000 grant from the charity Parkinson’s UK.

A patient diagnosed with one of the rapidly progressive form of Parkinson’s was used to obtain a skin sample; these skin cells were used to produce brain nerve cells affected by the disease.

The competence to produce these nerve cells will facilitate easy monitoring and evaluation of the efficacy of new drugs in impeding or halting disease progression.

Scientists aspire to develop potential medications that can limit the death of neurons, the key cells that collapse because of Parkinson’s.

Dr Tilo Kunath of the University of Edinburgh’s Medical Research Council Centre for Regenerative Medicine said, “Current drugs for Parkinson’s alleviate symptoms of the condition. Modelling the disease in a dish with real Parkinson’s neurons enables us to test drugs that may halt or reverse the condition. This study provides an ideal platform to gain fresh insight into the condition, and opens a new area of research to discover disease-modifying drugs.”

The neuron cells were generated from skin cells of a patient who had a rapidly progressive form of Parkinson’s – a type that could be diagnosed in people in their early 30s. In contrast to regular people, those with this form of Parkinson’s have double the number of genes that produce a protein known as alpha synuclein. This form of Parkinson’s is rare, but alpha synuclein is associated with all kinds of the disease.

Dr Michael Devine, of the UCL Institute of Neurology said, “Understanding such a progressive form of the disease will give us insight into different types of Parkinson’s. As this type of Parkinson’s progresses rapidly it will also make it easier to pick up the effects of drugs tested to prevent nerve cells targeted by the disease from dying.”
Director of Research and Development at Parkinson’s UK, Dr Kieran Breen, said, “Although the genetic mutation that leads to this progressive form of Parkinson’s is rare this exciting study has the potential to bring about a huge breakthrough in Parkinson’s research. This is just the kind of innovative research that Parkinson’s UK is committed to funding as we move closer to a cure.”

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