The BBC have a text article on this development. You can read it here. Basically, scientists in the US have managed to generate dopamine neurons in culture – and not just any old dopamine neurons, either. These are a mutated type that occur in some genetic forms of Parkinson’s Disease. The process involved skin cells collected from patients with the parkin mutation; the skin cells were induced to grow into the required neurons using recently developed stem cell technology.
“This is the first time that human dopamine neurons have ever been generated from Parkinson’s disease patients with parkin mutations,” said Dr Jian Feng who led the investigations.
“Before this, we didn’t even think about being able to study the disease in human neurons.
“The brain is so fully integrated. It’s impossible to obtain live human neurons to study.”
Obviously, any findings made using these cells are going to be most relevant to people with the Parkin mutation. But it may be that discoveries may ensue that are pertinent to everybody with Parkinson’s. After all, these are deficient dopamine neurons. Everybody with Parkinson’s has a problem with their dopamine neurons. We can also hope that the techniques used to grow these cells in vitro can be extended to grow other neurons with specific mutations.
The abstract for the scientific paper, published in the journal Nature Communications does, indeed, suggest potential beyond the specific parkin mutation:
[…] The results suggest that parkin controls dopamine utilization in human midbrain DA neurons by enhancing the precision of DA neurotransmission and suppressing dopamine oxidation. Thus, the study provides novel targets and a physiologically relevant screening platform for disease-modifying therapies of PD.
“Parkin controls dopamine utilization in human midbrain dopaminergic neurons derived from induced pluripotent stem cells”, Houbo Jiang, Yong Ren, Eunice Y. Yuen, Ping Zhong, Mahboobe Ghaedi, Zhixing Hu, Gissou Azabdaftari, Kazuhiro Nakaso, Zhen Yan & Jian Feng