Neurodegenerative disorders, which include Parkinson's disease, are common and likely to increase as we all live longer. These conditions are incurable and place a huge burden on Quebec's health care systems, as well as on patients, care givers and families. There is therefore a pressing need to better understand how these diseases develop with the expectation that it will lead to the development of therapies that stop their progression. The motor symptoms in Parkinson's disease are originating from the loss of dopamine cells in the brain. However, how exactly this occurs is not fully understood, given the lack of experimental systems that faithfully recapitulate the human condition.
This project takes advantage of a new technology to generate dopamine cells from skin cells of Parkinson's disease patients. In contrast to other technologies available, this new method produces cells that are the same age as the donor, thus keeping the vulnerability associated to older age, which is crucial since the most important risk factor for Parkinson's disease is aging. We will thus study what triggers dopamine cell death in brain cells converted from skin cells.
This project is unique in providing, for the first time, brain cells in a dish that will allow the dissection of events leading to cell death in a context that can be specific to each patient. As such, in the future this new approach could be used not only for identifying drugs that stops the disease progression, but also for tailoring therapies to best suit each patient based on their disease subtype, in a "personalized medicine" manner.