A major new study funded by Parkinson's UK will use induced pluripotent stem (IPS) cells to investigate Parkinson's disease. Parkinson’s is a progressive neurological disorder that affects motor functions, causing slowing of certain movements, postural instability and tremor (involuntary shaking). It affects around 120,000 people in the UK and is the second most common neurodegenerative disease (see BBC news).
IPS cells are stem cells with the potential to develop into different sorts of cells that have been derived from adult cells – in this case, skin cells from more than1,000 patients with early stage Parkinson's, which will be used to recreate neurons (nerve cells) of they type affected by the disease. It is very difficult to obtain diseased nerve cells directly from patients, as samples of brain tissue are not easily removed in the way that some other tissues may be biopsied.
A small proportion of Parkinson's disease patients have a rare, inherited form of the disease; the majority of cases are sporadic, having a complex (and as yet poorly understood) basis involving a range of interacting genetic and environmental causes. A large scale study into the genetics of Parkinson's disease is being run by genetic testing company 23andme (see previous news) with financial backing from both Google and its co-founder Sergey Brin, who has a family history of the disease and has reportedly invested around US$10 / £6 million of his own in addition to some US$6 / £4 million from the search engine company (see Telegraph article).