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Parkinson's disease brain cells created in lab


Scientists have created stem cell versions of brain cells with Parkinson's disease, a breakthrough for finding a cure.


Spencer Platt

Exact replicas of human brain cells with Parkinson's disease have been created by scientists from the University of Buffalo, a huge step towards finding a cure, BBC News reported

The stem cells will allow researchers to find out how other forms of Parkinson’s develop, The Mirror reported. The cells also give scientists the unprecedented ability to run tests on live brain tissue; such neurons were formerly inaccessible, because they are located too deep in the brain. 

"This is the first time that human dopamine neurons have ever been generated from Parkinson's disease patients with parkin mutations," said Dr. Jian Feng, professor of physiology and biophysics in the UB School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences and the study's lead author, The Digital Journal reported. "Before this, we didn't even think about being able to study the disease in human neurons. The brain is so fully integrated, it's impossible to obtain live human neurons to study."

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The study was published by Nature Communications. The scientists have called their discovery a "game-changer" in the fight against Parkinson's. 

To make the neurons, Dr. Feng and his team used a technique which turns donated skin cells into brain tissue, BBC reported. They used skin samples from two healthy people and two with Parkinson's disease, which allowed them to study the parkin gene that causes the disease. 

The research was inspired by a 2007 Japanese study in which researchers converted human cells to induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) that could be subsequently morphed into nearly any cells in the body, The Daily Journal reported. 

“This study is particularly exciting because it describes for the first time how researchers have successfully generated nerve cells from people with a rare genetic form of Parkinson's, linked to the parkin gene," Dr. Michelle Gardner, a research development manager at Parkinson’s UK, told the Mirror. 

The research also found that inserting the correct form of the gene into the nerve cells could restore their proper functioning, which points towards possibilities for new treatments of Parkinson's. 

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