Taking skin cells from patients afflicted by motor neuron disease, progressive neurological conditions that destroy motor neurons, a group of scientists led by Sir Ian Wilmut has chemically reprogrammed them into stem-like cells so they can study new therapies for the lethal disease in the lab. And they've done the same with cells from healthy volunteers so the scientists can compare the two batches in their work.
By developing this unique bunch of cells, Wilmut--who is renowned for his work cloning Dolly the sheep--and his team can start to test new drugs to see how the disease could be slowed or perhaps even cured. Of particular interest is finding out how the disease spreads to different parts of the brain. "Slowing down the disease is our first aim, stopping the disease is the second, and the home run would be to repair and restore lost function," Edinburgh University Professor Siddharthan Chandran told the Guardian.
The project is focusing on cells from patients who share a common genetic mutation that has been linked to the majority of patients with the disease. The most famous of all patients with motor neuron disease is the wheel-chair bound scientist Stephen Hawking. The program reflects a growing interest in the use of iPS cells to test new drugs.
"There is great hope that this approach will enable us to unravel the mystery of motor neuron disease: why and how particular nerve cells die," said Colin Blakemore, president of the MND Association. "The technology is now available to allow us to build upon the recent, important discoveries made by researchers around the world," says Dr. Brian Dickie, director of research development at the MND Association. "We have started to make real progress in understanding the causes of motor neuron disease and further investigation is needed to maximize the potential of stem cells to find effective treatments and we hope eventually a cure."