Stem cell brain repair for Parkinson's

Brain repair for Parkinson’s disease involves replacing the dead cells by transplanting healthy brain cells back into the brain

Tara Horan

May 1, 2024

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  • Scientists at University of Galway have made an exciting discovery that could revolutionise stem cell-based brain repair therapy for Parkinson’s disease. 

    Brain repair for Parkinson’s disease involves replacing the dead cells by transplanting healthy brain cells back into the brain. With recent advancements in regenerative medicine and stem cell technology, ‘induced stem cells’ can now be used as a source of healthy cells. Induced stem cells are reprogrammed from adult cells, such as skin cells, and can be converted in the laboratory into the appropriate type of brain cell required for repairing the Parkinson’s brain.  

    However, these skin cells-turned brain cells need to be transplanted into the brain at a very early stage in their conversion, and the vast majority of the cells do not continue to convert, once in the brain, into the mature cells that are required for the therapy to work.  

    In work funded by the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research (MJFF) and Science Foundation Ireland, published in the Journal of Neural Engineering, the team at University of Galway have shown that transplanting the immature cells in a collagen hydrogel dramatically improves both their survival and maturation in the brain.1

    Commenting on the research, lead neuroscientist on the project, Prof Eilís Dowd, said: “Our hydrogel nurtures, supports and protects the cells after they are transplanted into the brain, and this dramatically improves their maturation and reparative ability. Ultimately, we hope that continued development of this promising gel will lead to a significant improvement in brain repair approaches for people living with Parkinson’s.” 

    The new research aims to understand how the immune system in the brain reacts when cells are transplanted alone versus when they are transplanted in combination with the hydrogel. The research will continue to be led by Prof Dowd, in collaboration with colleagues from CÚRAM – the Science Foundation Ireland Research Centre for Medical Devices based at University of Galway, along with the University of Edinburgh and the University of Melbourne.

    Prof Dowd’s ongoing research is featured in a short documentary which won the Scientist Award at the Imagine Science Film Festival in New York and the Professional Documentary Award at the Raw Science Festival in California. See:

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