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Skin cells could help discover cause of Parkinson's disease

12 July 2010 Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC)

Researchers are applying new stem cell technology to use skin samples to grow
the brain cells thought to be responsible for the onset of Parkinson's disease,
the UK National Stem Cell Network (UKNSCN) annual science meeting will hear
today.

Dr Richard Wade-Martins, head of the Oxford Parkinson's Disease Centre, will
explain how he and his team will be gathering data from over 1,000 patients with
early stage Parkinson's disease and taking small samples of skin tissue to grow
special stem cells - induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells). iPS cells can
be generated from accessible tissue such as the skin and then used to generate
specific types of cell.

The researchers will use the iPS cells to grow dopamine neurons - the brain
cells responsible for the production of dopamine, as it is these cells which die
in patients with Parkinson's, leading to the onset of the disease.

Dr Wade-Martins explains: "Parkinson's disease is the second most common
neurodegenerative disease in the UK and is set to become increasingly common as
we live longer. iPS cells provide new and exciting opportunities to grow and
study dopamine neurons from patients for the first time. This technology will
prove to be extremely important in diseases which affect the brain because of
its relative inaccessibility - it's far easier to get a skin sample than a brain
biopsy. Once we have neurons from patients we can compare the functioning of
cells taken from patients with the disease and those without to better
understand why dopamine neurons die in patients with Parkinson's."

Over the next five years, the researchers funded by the charity Parkinson's UK,
will combine their stem cell work with the latest techniques in molecular
genetics, protein science and brain imaging to develop ways of detecting the
early development of Parkinson's disease in individuals before symptoms arrive.

The £5 million Monument Discovery Award given to Dr Wade-Martins and his team is
the largest grant ever awarded by Parkinson's UK.

Dr Kieran Breen, Parkinson's UK Director of Research said: "We are passionate
about finding a cure for Parkinson's. This is vital research that will help us
better understand the causes of this devastating condition and how it develops
and progresses. We hope the work will pave the way for new and better treatments
for people with Parkinson's in the future."

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