PROMISE FOR PARKINSONS: Neural Stem Cells. In Parkinsons disease, cells producing dopamine die off (for unknown reasons), resulting in tremors, rigidity and worse. Treatment consists of supplements of dopamine and surgical implantation of wires that provide electrical impulses for movement. For a decade, scientists have been trying to regrow nerve cells using stem cells, but these cells only made limited amounts of dopamine. Also, there were concerns that dopamine neurons developed from human stem cells could trigger growth of tumors.
• Recently, Lorenz Studer’s group at Memorial Sloan Kettering in NYC found the right chemical signals to coax stem cells into dopamine neurons. The neurons survived and restored activity in three animal models: mouse, rat and monkeys. The primate work was important because previous studies had shown that rodent brains required fewer working neurons to overcome symptoms.
• Dr Studer said: “We now have the right cells, but to put them into humans requires them to be produced in a specialized facility rather than a laboratory, for safety reasons. We have removed the main biological bottleneck and now it’s an engineering problem.”
Image: Derived from human embryonic stem cells, precursor neural cells grow in a lab dish and generate mature neurons (red) and glial cells (green), in the lab of University of Wisconsin-Madison stem cell researcher and neurodevelopmental biologist Su-Chun Zhang.
Ref: Dopamine neurons derived from human ES cells efficiently engraft in animal models of Parkinson’s disease. Kriks et al. doi:10.1038/nature10648