Medical Science News, September 21, 2016.
Lund University stem cell researcher awarded Fernström prize for study on repairing damaged brain.
Is it possible to convert a patient’s own skin cells into functioning nerve cells? Or insert healthy genes to reprogram the cells of a damaged brain? Stem cell researcher Malin Parmar at Lund University in Sweden is studying these types of issues, in close collaboration with clinical researchers. She is now awarded a prize of SEK 100 000 from the Eric K. Fernström Foundation for her work.
Every year, the Fernström Foundation presents one large Nordic prize (which will be announced later in September) as well as local prizes to researchers at the six faculties of medicine in Sweden. Malin Parmar has received Lund University’s local prize for her studies on how to repair a brain that has suffered damage due to, for instance, Parkinson’s disease, with the help of advanced methods.
Her work involves three different aspects of research:
1. Making stem cells develop into dopamine-producing nerve cells, which can be inserted into the brains of patients who suffer from Parkinson’s, and thus have low levels of the signal substance dopamine
2. Reprogramming skin cells directly into dopamine cells, without having to go through a stem cell stage
3. Inserting genes into the brain to perform such reprogramming on the spot, and making, for example, glial cells (a type of connective tissue) convert into dopamine cells.
“I believe in all three methods. They each have their advantages and disadvantages, and very different time perspectives”, she says.
The first method will also be the first to be tested, in which stem cells, that have been cultivated in a lab, will be made to transform into dopamine cells to be transplanted into the patient’s brain. Trials with human patients are expected to begin within two years.
A characteristic feature of stem cells is that they love to divide and create new cells. This is both an advantage and a disadvantage in this context. The advantage is that it is easy to obtain large quantities of cells to transplant. The disadvantage is that the division must be monitored carefully, so as to not have the process take off in an uncontrolled manner, similar to what happens in cancer.
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