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Cell therapy may hold key to treating Parkinson’s disease

Cell regeneration may hold the cure for diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, says a new study.

health Updated: Jul 11, 2017 16:09 IST
Cell therapies help regenerate tissues that are no longer functional.
Cell therapies help regenerate tissues that are no longer functional.(Shutterstock)

According to recent study, advancements in materials from this study could potentially help patients requiring stem cell therapies for spinal cord injuries, stroke, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, arthritic joints or any other condition requiring tissue regeneration. Earlier research revolved around the role of autoimmunity in terms of a treatment.

“It’s important in the context of cell therapies for people to cure these diseases or regenerate tissues that are no longer functional,” shared Samuel I. Stupp, director of Northwestern’s Simpson Querrey Institute for BioNanotechnology and Board of Trustees Professor of Materials Science and Engineering, Chemistry, Medicine and Biomedical Engineering.

Cells in our bodies are constantly being signalled with many types of instructions coming from proteins and other molecules present in the matrices that surround them. For example, these can be cues for cells to express specific genes so they can proliferate or differentiate into several types of cells leading to growth or regeneration of tissues. One of the marvels of this signalling machinery is the built-in capacity in living organisms to make signals stop and restart as needed, or to switch off one signal and activate a different one to orchestrate very complex processes.

The new technology manipulates cells by converting the skin cells to cure a patient with Parkinson’s disease. (Shutterstock)

Building artificial materials with this type of dynamic capacity for regenerative therapies has been virtually impossible so far. The new work published today reports the development of the first synthetic material that has the capability to trigger reversibly this type of dynamic signalling. The platform could not only lead to materials that manage stem cells for more effective regenerative therapies, but will also allow scientists to explore and discover in the laboratory new ways to control the fate of cells and their functions.

One of the findings is the possibility of using the synthetic material to signal neural stem cells to proliferate, then at a specific time selected by the operator, trigger their differentiation into neurons and then return the stem cells back to a proliferative state on demand. The paper also reports that spinal cord neural stem cells, initially grouped into structures known as “neurospheres,” can be driven to spread out and differentiate using a signal.

But when this signal is switched off, the cells spontaneously regroup themselves into colonies. This uncovers strong interactions among these cells that could be important in understanding developmental and regenerative cues. The potential use of the new technology to manipulate cells could help cure a patient with Parkinson’s disease. The patient’s own skin cells could be converted to stem cells using existing techniques.

The new technology could help expand the newly converted stem cells in vitro — in the lab — and then drive their differentiation into dopamine-producing neurons before transplantation back to the patient. In the new technology, materials are chemically decorated with different strands of DNA, each designed to display a different signal to cells.

“People would love to have cell therapies that utilize stem cells derived from their own bodies to regenerate tissue. In principle, this will eventually be possible, but one needs procedures that are effective at expanding and differentiating cells in order to do so. Our technology does that,” noted Stupp. While this process is currently only done in vitro with the vision of then transplanting cells, Stupp said in the future it might be possible to perform this process in vivo.

The stem cells would be implanted in the clinic, encapsulated in the type of material described in the new work, via an injection and targeted to a particular spot. Then the soluble molecules would be given to the patient to manipulate proliferation and differentiation of transplanted cells. The study was published in journal Nature Communications.

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