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From Medical Xpress:
Oxford University researchers have succeeded in using stem cell technology to grow nerve cells in the laboratory from initial skin samples taken from Parkinson’s patients. It’s the first large-scale effort of its kind in the UK.

The advance will allow that are just like those of the people with Parkinson’s to be studied intensively in the laboratory in ways that weren’t possible before.

The study aims to investigate what processes are making specific nerve cells, called dopamine neurons, die off as the disease progresses.

"We can’t take bits of people’s brains when they are alive, of course," says Dr. Richard Wade-Martins of the Oxford Parkinson’s Disease Centre, who led the work. "So we never have been able to study dopamine neurons from a patient."

"We now have a platform to understand what happens in the cells in disease and identify new pathways that could lead to potential targets for new therapies."

BBC News followed the steps in the process with one patient from Oxfordshire. A skin biopsy was provided by Mr Derek Underwood, who used to work for a manufacturer of MRI scanners before his early retirement through Parkinson’s.

Skin cells from Mr. Underwood’s biopsy were then grown up in the lab. At the appropriate point, using an approach recently developed by Japanese scientists, the skin cells were ‘reprogrammed’ to revert back to a stem-cell-like state.

The great power of these induced pluripotent , or iPS cells, is that they are able to form just about any of the specialised types of cell present in the body. That allowed the Oxford team to guide the iPS cells to develop, or ‘differentiate’, into nerve cells that are essentially identical to the Mr. Underwood’s own nerve cells in his brain.

Some of the nerve cells generated are dopamine neurons, the ones involved in Parkinson’s disease.

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