Parkinson's is a horrible degenerative disorder of the central nervous system which is sadly incurable. But now a team of scientists from Johns Hopkins has been able to grow the brain cells which are usually destroyed by the disease from skin stem cells—and they're confident it will help them develop new treatments.
In fact, their experiments have already been using the lab-grown brain cells to test the effectiveness of drugs currently in development to treat Parkinson's. More exciting, they explain in their report, published in Science Translational Medicine, that the ability to test in the lab should massively speed up the search for new drugs to treat the condition. Ted M. Dawson explains another possibility of the development:
"Our study suggests that some failed drugs should actually work if they were used earlier, and especially if we could diagnose Parkinson's before tremors and other symptoms first appear."
While scientists have in the past been able to halt the disease in mice, none of the compounds used to do so have translated effectively to humans. That suggests that the disease works differently in humans to animals, and makes the new finding all the more useful.
The current thinking is that Parkinson's damages the mitochondria of dopamine neurons in the brain, in effect cutting off their energy supply. The next step for the Johns Hopkins researchers, then, is to investigate how they can slow that damage in the lab-grown cells. [Science Translational Medicine via John Hopkins]
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