Parkinson’s breakthrough: Lab-grown mini-brains mimic disease in new hope of finding cure

Philip Tindall says he 'tried to ignore' his Parkinson's

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Researchers from the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR)’s Genome Institute of Singapore (GIS), the National Neuroscience Institute (NNI) and Duke-NUS Medical School worked together to create the new revolutionary tests after noting the difficulty of performing tests in animal models. The majority of previous research and lab testing on Parkinson’s has come from tests on mice. While this has seen some uses, it has posed limitations on allowing scientists to study the complete effects of the disease.

Parkinson’s disease is a progressive neurological disease that affects a person’s nerve cells.

This causes them to suffer from tremors, muscle stiffness and slowness of movement.

Presently, there is no known effective cure for the disease.

But now, the teams of researchers may have found a way around that.

Professor Ng Huck Hui, Senior Group Leader at GIS, A*STAR, and senior co-author of the study, said: “Recreating models of Parkinson’s disease in animal models is hard as these do not show the progressive and selective loss of neurons that produce the neurotransmitter dopamine, a major feature of Parkinson’s disease.

“Another limitation is that experimental mouse models of Parkinson’s disease do not develop characteristic clumps of proteins called Lewy bodies, which are often seen in the brain cells of people with Parkinson’s disease and a type of progressive dementia known as Lewy body dementia.”

To tackle these limitations, the team was able to grow pea-sized brains by coaxing human stem cells to develop into the bundles of neurons and other cells found in the brain.

They manipulated the DNA of the starting stem cells to match genetic risk factors found in people who suffer from Parkinson’s and were able to grow organoids with neurons that showed both Lewy bodies and the progressive loss of dopamine-producing neurons.

The team has now started work on organoids to study how the Lewy bodies develop and have begun to test drugs to slow down, or possibly stop, the progression of the disease.

Professor Tan Eng King, Deputy Medical Director, Academic Affairs, at NNI, a senior co-author of the study, said: “It’s a major challenge to extend healthy living years in an ageing global population, whose physical and cognitive performance often declines due to neurodegenerative disorders.

“This discovery provides insights and a ‘humanised’ disease model that can facilitate drug testing against Parkinson’s disease and dementia.”

More than 17,000 people aged 45 and over are diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in the UK every year.

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Neurological disorders are the leading cause of disability on a global scale, and the fastest-growing one is Parkinson’s.

Scientists identify three main types of so-called parkinsonism and related diseases: idiopathic Parkinson’s, vascular parkinsonism and drug-induced parkinsonism.

But there are many more types, such as multiple system atrophy (MSA), normal pressure hydrocephalus and progressive supranuclear palsy.

Parkinson’s UK explained: “Parkinsonism is a term that covers several conditions, including Parkinson’s and other conditions with similar symptoms such as slow movement, rigidity (stiffness) and problems with walking.”

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