Scientists look to dopamine production in Parkinson’s research

Researchers have developed a new, more accurate production method for stem cell-derived dopamine neurons for the potential treatment of Parkinson's disease. Photo by Nissim Benvenisty/Wikimedia Commons

LUND, Sweden, Oct. 31 (UPI) — Researchers at Lund University say they have found a more effective way to produce dopamine neurons from stem cells for the treatment of Parkinson’s disease.

Stem cell therapy to control dopamine production may help treat Parkinson’s disease, but until now, accurately controlling and producing the cells in the lab has proven difficult.

“In our preclinical assessments of stem cell-derived dopamine neurons, we noticed that the outcome in animal models varied dramatically, even though the cells were very similar at the time of transplantation,” lead researcher Malin Parmar explained. “This has been frustrating and puzzling, and has significantly delayed the establishment of clinical cell production protocols.”

In a study published in the journal Cell Stem Cell, authors say stem cell engineering combined with mesencephalic dopamine grafting is a promising strategy for combating the brain damage associated with Parkinson’s disease, and that their new production method brings the treatment closer to clinical use.

“We have identified a specific set of markers that correlate with high dopaminergic yield and graft function after transplantation in animal models of Parkinson’s disease,” author Agnete Kirkeby said in a press release. “Guided by this information, we have developed a better and more accurate method for producing dopamine cells for clinical use in a reproducible way.”

The experiment explored a stem cell’s development into a dopamine neuron. The research is linked to a second study by the same scientists, which explored how dopamine neurons form during their development, and explained what makes them differ from other types of neurons.

With newfound control over the stem cell differentiation process, researchers can produce pure populations of high-quality dopamine neurons.

Despite the challenges, the research team says the first human transplants are expected to be just a few years away.


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