Parkinson’s is a progressive neurodegenerative disorder that characteristically affects the dopamine-producing neurons in the substantia nigra or the midbrain. It usually begins with stiffness, shaking, tremors, voice changes, and postural instability, all of which worsen with time, resulting in difficulty walking and talking.
Parkinsons is a widely common neurodegenerative disease affecting approximately 10 million people worldwide, as of 2019. And the rate of incidence increases with age, for example, it affects 1 percent of individuals over the age of 60 years in comparison to 5 percent of individuals over the age of 85 years.
Parkinsons is a nervous system disorder that predominantly affects the motor function of the patient, therefore reducing the quality of life significantly. Unfortunately, Parkinson’s does not have a cure but there are many supportive therapeutic options available for the patients in the form of physical therapy, and medication along with a treatment option including deep brain stimulation (DBS).
DBS has shown great results but it is an invasive procedure that only produces temporary results. Hence, more research and studies need to be performed in the field of nervous system disorders to discover better therapeutic approaches.
Parkinsons and other nervous system disorders like stroke, Huntington’s, and so on are difficult to cure or treat due to the extensive damage to the neurons seen in these diseases. This is a problem because neurons are infamous for their inability to regenerate. Although stem cells that can be adapted into neurons may be recommended as a therapeutic option, they come with a problem of their own.
The new neurons do not connect with the native neurons as they do not recognize or identify them. This results in no improvement in neuronal circuitry and in the patient’s condition.
A University of Wisconsin-Madison study
A recent study published in Cell Stem Cell Journal by Su-Chun Zhang, Department of Neuroscience, School of Medicine and Public Health, University of Wisconsin-Madison, and her team claim to have derived neurons from human stem cells that can be used to repair circuitry and improve neural functions.
Method of study
Zhang and her team derived dopamine-producing neurons from human embryonic stem cells and then transplanted these into the substantia nigra of the brain in animal models with Parkinson’s disease.
These transplanted cells also contained on and off switches that could be stimulated externally using certain drugs or foods.
Results of the study
Zhang and her team found that these transplanted cells formed connections with native neurons and grew long-distance to form connections with the motor control regions in the brain to improve the motor functions usually affected by Parkinson’s. The results were visible after a few months of transplantation, the time needed for the transplanted neurons to integrate into the brain.
To confirm that the improvement seen in the mice was due to the transplanted cells, the on and off switches were stimulated by the research team.
When the cells were turned off, the symptoms of Parkinson’s reappeared indicating the proper functioning of these cells in the treatment of the neurodegenerative disorder. Furthermore, the scientists on closer look found that these cells were identified by native neurons and had been integrated into the midbrain. Moreover, the researchers believe that these switches can be used to fine-tune the treatment option for the patients.
The research team is currently applying these results to the primates model and aims to use the results from Parkison disease models for other nervous system disorders as well.
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