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Japanese team finds new way to create, research Parkinson’s stem cells

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Staff Writer

Researchers from Juntendo and Keio universities have come up with a quicker and easier way to generate iPS cells from people with Parkinson’s disease, a discovery they claim will go a long way in developing a cure for the neurological disease.

In a paper published Friday in the journal Stem Cell Reports, researchers led by Nobutaka Hattori and Hideyuki Okano report they have established a technology to study a large number of patients by using iPS cells derived from their blood. The key lies in their success in turning the cells into neural stem cells more efficiently, which lets them monitor how the disease progresses in test tubes. They can also study how they react to chemicals, bringing a cure closer.

“This method will allow us to use iPS cells derived from several thousand Parkinson’s disease patients treated at Juntendo University in order to study the disease mechanism,” the universities said in a statement. “We aim to create a ‘Parkinson’s Disease iPS Cell Bank’ at a scale never seen anywhere else in the world.”

Induced pluripotent stem cells are traditionally made from skin cells, requiring patients to go through a biopsy. Taking blood samples is less invasive as it leaves no scars, but blood-derived cells are harder to convert to neurons.

The researchers said they overcame this by culturing the iPS cells under certain conditions, such as in a low-oxygen environment, and converting them to neurons more efficiently. While traditional methods require 30 to 50 days for iPS cells to become neurons, the new method can achieve this in a week or two, said Wado Akamatsu, a professor at the Center for the Genomic and Regenerative Medicine of Juntendo University.

According to the Japan Intractable Diseases Information Center, 100,000 people in Japan have Parkinson’s, and the number is expected to surge as the population grays. While a tremor is the most typical symptom, the disorder is also known to cause stiffness and slow movement.

Although there are many theories about the causes, none has ever been proved and many mysteries remain. Around 10 percent of the disorder is genetic, while the rest is caused by environmental factors, Juntendo’s Hattori said.