From Skin Cells to Brain Cells
As much fun as I had exploring psychology last time I set out to write a blog post, this article from Science Daily caught my eye last week and I had to revert to my biology-related posting habit. Evidently, researchers at Oxford in the UK are using skin cells to grow induced pleuripotent stem (IPS) cells to use in their study of Parkinson’s Disease. What’s so useful about this technique is that skin cells are easily accessible, in contrast to the hard-to-reach tissues of the brain. With the skin cells obtained, the scientists plan to grow dopaminergic neurons and work on techniques for early detection of PD, perhaps finding ways to diagnose it before patients start showing symptoms. The skin cells will be from early-stage Parkinson’s patients, so they can be compared to the dopaminergic cells of healthy individuals to determine where things go wrong in the neurons affected by the disease.
Scientists at Stanford have recently grown neurons from stem cells created from the skin of a sixty-year-old Parkinson’s patient, whose disease is genetic in origin. From the skin cells, they were able to grow neurons that first acted like regular neurons should. The concern was how fast these Parkinson’s neurons would begin to show signs of the disease, as symptoms takes decades to show up in patients. Fortunately, “the culture dish is a pretty stressful place to be” according to Blake Byers, a Stanford graduate student working on the project. Applying selected toxins eventually brought the neurons to oxidative stress, and they began producing more of the proteins required to respond to such stress: proteins known as Lewy bodies – a phenomenon often coupled with Parkinson’s disease. These researchers are looking a bit more to the treatment side as an outcome for their studies, as Byers says, “By comparing neurons from patients with different forms of Parkinson’s disease, we may find commonalities or differences that will help to optimize future treatments for each patient.”
Using stem cells to investigate neuro-degeneration is not an entirely new thing, and there have been many interesting studies in the area. In 2008, researchers at M.I.T. grew IPS cells from mouse skin cells, and inserted them into the brain cavities of developing mouse fetuses, finding the cells still present and a functional part of the mouse brain once the animal was born. Then, they selectively eliminated dopaminergic neurons in the brains of rats, and observed a lack of coordination in the animals as a result. When they grew dopaminergic neurons from IPS cells and grafted them into the dopamine-lacking areas of the rats’ brains, eight of the nine rats showed motor improvement! Though the Parkinson’s model produced in rats was not exactly in line with human Parkinson’s, this study is a fascinating look at potential methods of future therapy. Luckily, the recent use of IPS cells grown from human skin cells provides a more accurate model with which to study the course of Parkinson’s disease and various ways to approach treatment.
Researchers Flesh Out Parkinson’s Treatment Using Skin Cells – Scientific American
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