01:07pm Friday 13 December 2019

Stem cell model breakthrough for brain disease research

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In a paper published today in the academic journal Disease Models and Mechanisms, a Griffith University research team report on a new cell model they have developed to investigate brain diseases based on patient-derived stem cells.

They get the stem cells from an accessible part of the nervous system, the olfactory organ of the sense of smell in the nose.

Professor Alan Mackay-Sim from the National Centre for Adult Stem Cell Research said this new cell model was a milestone because researchers could not obtain brain cells of patients suffering from brain diseases.

“Lack of patient-derived brain cells has blocked progress in understanding brain diseases compared to progress in understanding and treating cancers, based on cells from cancer patients,” Professor Mackay-Sim said.

“For brain diseases, research has relied on cells from other parts of the body, which lack important features for understanding brain diseases, and post-mortem brain samples, which are limited in supply and provide the endpoint of disease only.

“Olfactory stem cells have many advantages over other stem cells sources as models for brain diseases.

“They can be obtained from a patient’s nose with a simple biopsy and the cells provide important information about both developmental and degenerative brain diseases.”

Professor Mackay-Sim’s team used olfactory stem cells from people with Schizophrenia and Parkinson’s disease and compared them to stem cells from healthy people.

“This approach demonstrated disease-specific differences in the genes, proteins and cell-functions of those suffering from the brain disorders. This approach may also reveal important findings for other neurological conditions and help to develop new drugs.”

The study has identified new candidate genes and cell pathways for future investigation.

Schizophrenia is a life-long mental illness affecting one per cent of the world’s population. Despite family history being the most important risk factor, genetic family and association studies have failed to reveal the genes associated with the disease.

Parkinson’s disease is a degenerative neurological disorder affecting 0.1 per cent of the world’s population. Its prevalence is age-dependent with the risk increasing with age.

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