Stem cells hold promise for understanding and treating neurodegenerative diseases, but till now they have failed to accurately model disorders that occur late in life.
A study published by Cell Press December 5th in the journal Cell Stem Cell
has revealed a new method for converting induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) into nerve cells that recapitulate features associated with aging as well as Parkinson's disease. The simple approach, which involves exposing iPSC-derived cells to a protein associated with premature aging called progerin, could enable scientists to use stem cells to model a range of late-onset disorders, opening new avenues for preventing and treating these devastating diseases.
"With current techniques, we would typically have to grow pluripotent stem cell-derived cells for 60 or more years in order to model a late-onset disease," says senior study author Lorenz Studer of the Sloan-Kettering Institute for Cancer Research. "Now, with progerin-induced aging, we can accelerate this process down to a period of a few days or weeks. This should greatly simplify the study of many late-onset diseases that are of such great burden to our aging society."
Modeling a specific patient's disease in a dish is possible with iPSC approaches, which involve taking skin cells from patients and reprogramming them to embryonic-like stem cells capable of turning into other disease-relevant cell types like neurons or blood cells. But iPSC-derived cells are immature and often take months to become functional, similar to the slow development of the human embryo. As a result of this slow maturation process, iPSC-derived cells are too young to model diseases that emerge late in life.