New study converts iPS cells at record pace to help victims of Parkinson’s disease

iPS Cells for Parkinsons

While stem cell treatment is nothing new, a revolutionary study published in Stem Cell Reports has revealed how to iPS cells from people with Parkinson’s disease. This will, according to the study’s researchers, help scientists develop a cure more quickly.

“iPS cells are created when scientists introduce genes to an adult cell.”

Researchers, led by Nobutaka Hattori and Hideyuki Okano, stated they found a way to study a larger number of patients by using iPS cells derived from their blood. iPS cells, or induced pluripotent stem cells, are cells that  have been created when scientists introduce genes to an adult cell, such as a skin cell. These genes then reprogram the cell and transform it into one that looks and acts like an embryonic cell. In short, it’s a duplicate. In most other cases, embryonic stem cells must be derived from human embryos, which is a controversial subject.

“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,” Juntendo and Keio universities said in a joint statement. “We aim to create a ‘Parkinson’s Disease iPS Cell Bank’ at a scale never seen anywhere else in the world.”

In the report, the researchers explained why it was important to build a “Parkinson’s Disease iPS Cell Bank,” saying that, because every patient is different, the only way to better treat the condition is by studying multiple patients.

“Most patients with neurological disorders, such as Parkinson’s disease, do not have a genetic background associated with the onset of the disease,” the researchers noted. “Recent whole-exome sequencing studies revealed that such sporadic diseases are related to many rare variants. To elucidate the etiologies of these diseases, it is important to establish hiPSCs from a sufficient number of patients and to characterize multiple clones such that statistical analysis can be performed.”

The main difference between Hattori and Okano’s study of iPS cells and others is they found a way to convert blood cells rather than skin cells, which is the traditional method. The difficult part was trying to convert the blood cells into neural stem cells. They accomplished this, in part, by transforming the cells in low-oxygen conditions. While in this type of environment, the iPS cells will convert to neurons in one to two weeks, compared with traditional methods, which can take upwards of 50 days.

According to the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation, nearly 60,000 Americans are diagnosed with Parkinson’s each year. Around 1 million Americans currently have  the disease, and around seven to 10 million people worldwide have it. These numbers, of course, don’t account for those cases that haven’t been detected.