New technique may aid Parkinson’s cell therapies’ efficiency

by Marisa Wexler, MS | December 18, 2023

Scientists have developed a more efficient method for using stem cells to create new dopaminergic neurons, the dopamine-making nerve cells whose death and dysfunction causes Parkinson’s disease.

The technique was detailed in Nature Communications, in the study, “Enhanced production of mesencephalic dopaminergic neurons from lineage-restricted human undifferentiated stem cells.”

Dopamine is a chemical messenger that certain nerve cells use to communicate with each other. In Parkinson’s disease, the neurons in the brain that normally make dopamine sicken and die and the reduction that results in dopamine signaling gives rise to disease symptoms.

Cell therapies to replace the lost dopaminergic neurons with new, healthy cells may be a viable strategy for treating Parkinson’s. To get dopaminergic neurons, scientists typically rely on stem cells, which can grow into many different cell types, including neurons.

It’s not easy to get stem cells to only grow into one type of cell, however. As a result, with standard methods, only a fraction of the cells generated from stem cells will actually be usable dopaminergic neurons. The rest will be other cell types that aren’t suited for Parkinson’s therapy.