Researchers from a study, led by the University of Edinburgh in collaboration with UCL (University College London), have for the first time created stem cells from one of the most rapidly progressing forms of Parkinson's disease. The study was published in the journal Nature Communications.

This will benefit research into the condition, as it will allow researchers to model the disease in the laboratory to clarify why certain nerve cells die.

Funded with a £300,000 grant from the charity Parkinson's UK, the investigators took skin samples from a patient diagnosed with one of the most progressive forms of Parkinson's disease. They then used these skin cells to produce brain nerve cells affected by the disease, making it easier to monitor the effectiveness of potential new medications that could slow or stop progress of the condition.

The goal would be to find drugs that can prevent death of these crucial cells (neurons), which as a result of Parkinson's break down.

Dr Tilo Kunath, of the University of Edinburgh's Medical Research Council Centre for Regenerative Medicine, explained:

"Current drugs for Parkinson's alleviate symptoms of the condition. Modeling the disease in a dish with real Parkinson's neurons enables us to test drugs that may halt or reverse the condition.

This investigation provides an ideal platform to gain fresh insight into the condition, and opens a new area of research to discover disease-modifying drugs."

The neuron cells were created from a patient with a type of Parkinson's that progresses rapidly and can be diagnosed to individuals in their early 30s. In comparison to the general population, those with this type of Parkinson's have twice as many of the genes that produce a protein called alpha synuclein.

Even though this type of Parkinson's is rare, the protein involved is connected to virtually all forms of the disease.

"Understanding such a progressive form of the disease will give us insight into different types of Parkinson's. As this type of Parkinson's progresses rapidly it will also make it easier to pick up the effects of drugs tested to prevent nerve cells targeted by the disease from dying,"

..said Dr Michael Devine, of UCL's Institute of Neurology. Dr Kieran Breen, Director of Research and Development at Parkinson's UK, stated:

"Although the genetic mutation that leads to this progressive form of Parkinson's is rare this exciting investigation has the potential to bring about a huge breakthrough in Parkinson's research.

This is just the kind of innovative research that Parkinson's UK is committed to funding as we move closer to a cure."

Grace Rattue

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