Researchers Convert Skin Cells Into Dopamine For Parkinson’s Treatment

Posted: Dec 7 2015, 12:10pm CST | by , Updated: Dec 8 2015, 8:42pm CST, in Latest Science News


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Dopamine neurons
Photo credit: Jian Feng, University at Buffalo

A new study published by researchers from the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at the University of Buffalo in the journal Nature Communications suggests that a breakthrough treatment for Parkinson’s disease is in sight.

Most Parkinson’s disease patients are suffering from lack of dopamine – a monoamine neurotransmitter found in the brain and essential for the normal functioning of the central nervous system – and scientists for ages have tried to repair damaged dopamine neurons in patients and then implant them back for normal functions – but without much success.

Researchers have also experimented with fetal materials to create embryonic stem cells, but the process for developing dopamine neurons is tedious with very low yield; so they turned to skin cells.

They came upon the use of skin cells for creating dopamine neurons by discovering p53, the transcription factor protein that works as a gatekeeper protein.

"We found that p53 tries to maintain the status quo in a cell, it guards against changes from one cell type to another," explained Jian Feng, senior author and professor in the Department of Physiology and Biophysics in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at UB.

"We found that p53 acts as a kind of gatekeeper protein to prevent conversion into another type of cell. Once we lowered the expression of p53, then things got interesting: We were able to reprogram the fibroblasts into neurons much more easily," Feng added.

With the latest discovery, scientists can now exploit cell biology to create a generic technique for modifying one type of cells into another. Just as an open access software could be modified to suit individual needs, Feng announced that cells can now be recreated once researchers know the transcription factor combinations that could be used to turn genes on or off – this will enable researchers and the human body to quickly determine how the genome is being interpreted and read.

"People like to think that things proceed in a hierarchical way, that we start from a single cell and develop into an adult with about 40 trillion cells, but our results prove that there is no hierarchy," Feng submitted. "All our cells have the same source code as our first cell; this code is read differently to generate all types of cells that make up the body."

Working on a perfect timing when a new cell is yet to fully understand its environment to enable it to replicate the genome, scientists are able to infuse the cell with new information that makes it suitable for modifications later.

Skin cells could easily be converted to dopamine neurons when cell p53 which acts as the genomic gatekeeper once the necessary transcription factor combinations are primed into them. This creativity causes the DNA modification enzyme, Tet1, to be switched on to enable the smooth reading of the genome.

With this new method, Feng reported that earlier techniques took up to 2 weeks to create 5% dopamine neurons, but the new method they devised produces 60% dopamine neurons within 10 days. These could then be transplanted back into the brain of Parkinson’s patients where they will function to repair damaged dopamine neurons to start functioning again.

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The Author

<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/52" rel="author">Charles I. Omedo</a>
Charles is covering the latest discoveries in science and health as well as new developments in technology. He is the Chief Editor or Intel-News.




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