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Stem Cell Study Takes Us One Step Closer to a Cure for Parkinson’s

A cure for Parkinson’s disease is one step closer thanks to scientists at the University of Edinburgh and University College London, who have generated stem cells from one of the most rapidly progressing forms of the disease.

The stem cells will allow researchers to model the disease in the laboratory and shed light on why certain nerve cells die.

The scientists took skin samples from a Parkinson’s patient and then used these skin cells to generate brain nerve cells affected by the disease. They will now be able to investigate ways to prevent these brain nerve cells – or neurons – dying, to find a potential new drug to treat the disease.

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 a patient with a form of Parkinson’s that progresses rapidly and can be diagnosed in people in their early 30s. This form of the disease is rare, but the protein responsible - alpha synuclein - can be linked to most other forms.

Dr Michael Devine, of UCL’s 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.”

The study was funded by a £300,000 grant from the charity Parkinson’s UK. Dr Kieran Breen, Director of Research and Development at the charity, 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.”

Gemma Sharp

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