Parkinson’s regenerative medicine project funded

Dr Tilo Kunath, of the UK Centre for Mammalian Synthetic Biology, and Dr Asuka Morizane of Kyoto University have won funding from the MRC and Japan Agency for Medical Research (AMED) in an exciting project to non-invasively monitor human stem cells differentiating into dopaminergic neural cells in a dish.

Dr Tilo Kunath, of the UK Centre for Mammalian Synthetic Biology, and Dr Asuka Morizane of Kyoto University
Dr Tilo Kunath (left) and Dr Asuka Morizane (right)

A distinct hallmark of Parkinson’s disease is the significant loss of cells releasing the neurotransmitter dopamine from specific regions of the midbrain. Transplanting dopamine cells (harvested from embryos) back into that area can restore the missing nerve connections, and the chemical dopamine to ameliorate some of the Parkinson’s symptoms such as tremor and difficulty with swallowing. However, such transplantable cells are in short supply and ethically problematic to source. An alternative would be to use adult cells reprogrammed into an embryonic cell-like state and then transforming these cells into dopamine-producing cells in a dish for implantation.

Although, Dr Kunath has known Dr Morizane at Kyoto University for several years, this is their first collaboration together. The funding will enable the team to monitor how these adult reprogrammed stem cells (human pluripotent stem cells) behave in a dish and whether they are being correctly converted into dopamine-producing progenitor cells prior to transplantation.

The MRC and AMED are investing a total of ~£7M in eight exciting new regenerative medicine research partnerships that seek to advance regenerative approaches towards clinical use. The funded projects will focus on research to underpin the early-stage development of novel regenerative medicine-based therapies for a range of disorders, including, Parkinson’s disease, blood disorders and liver diseases, or to utilise stem cells as important medical research tools to study human development.

Edinburgh won two of the eight awards. Prof Keisuke Kaii of the Centre for Regenerative Medicine has a collaboration with Dr Kosuke Yusa of Kyoto University on reprogramming adult human hepatocytes into cells for repairing damaged livers.