Thanks to an exciting new discovery, a Parkinson’s diagnosis in the future may not be the life-shattering blow it is now.
A new study led by a University at Buffalo researcher is a critical step toward a better understanding of Parkinson’s disease (PD) and how to treat it.
The study finds a way to use human stem cells to generate the specific brain cells (neurons) lost in PD, a progressive nervous system disorder that causes involuntary movements, affecting coordination and balance and ultimately making it difficult to walk or talk.
The human brain contains many types of dopamine neurons, each of which is responsible for different brain functions. The neurons the researchers focused on, called nigral dopamine neurons (also known as A9 DA neurons), are responsible for controlling voluntary movements. Their progressive loss causes the movement symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.
“Scientists have been trying hard to generate these neurons from human pluripotent stem cells to study Parkinson’s disease and develop better therapies,” said Jian Feng, senior author on the paper and professor of physiology and biophysics in UB’s Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.
“We have succeeded,” added Feng. “It means that we can now generate these neurons from any PD patients to study their disease.”
According to Feng, there are a number of roadblocks to studying PD, but significant progress is being made.
“There is no objective diagnostic test of Parkinson’s disease, and when PD is diagnosed by clinical symptoms, it is already too late,” he said. “The loss of nigral DA neurons has already been going on for at least a decade.”
Scientists have been using animal models and human cell lines to study Parkinson’s, but those systems don’t adequately reflect the situation in human nigral DA neurons.
“Just within the past 15 years, PD research has been transformed by the ability to make patient-specific dopamine neurons that are increasingly similar to their counterparts in the brain of a PD patient,” Feng said.
And now, thanks to his research, they’re more than just similar: They’re the real thing.
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