US scientists have paved the way for major research into Parkinson’s disease after successfully making human brain cells in the lab that are an exact replica of a genetically-caused form of the illness.

The researchers made induced pluripotent stem cells from skin samples taken from adults with a rare, inherited form of Parkinson’s triggered by changes in the parkin gene.

They then became the first team to transform these stem cells into dopamine-producing nerve cells – the type of cells that get sick and die in Parkinson’s – and found that changes in the parkin gene affected the way the nerve cells handled dopamine.

The Parkinson’s cells also showed increased stress caused by the build-up of damaging molecules.

According to the study, published in Nature Communications, the scientists used skin samples from four volunteers – two healthy people and two with Parkinson’s disease caused by a parkin gene mutation. This allowed them to observe the parkin gene at work.

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Until recently, it was impossible to study human nerve cells in the laboratory. Now, nerve cells grown in a dish allow scientists to see what happens inside the Parkinson’s brain.

Parkinson’s UK research development manager Dr Michelle Gardner commented, "New stem cell technology which allows nerve cells to be made from adult skin cells is opening doors for research into Parkinson’s. This study is particularly exciting because it describes for the first time how researchers have successfully generated nerve cells from people with a rare genetic form of Parkinson’s, linked to the parkin gene."


Caption: US researchers used adult stem cells and transformed them into dopamine-producing nerve cells. Credit: dream designs