In a major step towards development of personalized drugs for Parkinson's patients, scientists have managed to grow 3D models of cells that are lost with the progress of the disease.
The progressive loss of neurons in the brain of Parkinson's patients is slow yet inexorable. So far, there are no drugs that can halt this insidious process.
"This is an important step towards personalized drug development," said study leader Ronan Fleming from Luxembourg Centre for Systems Biomedicine (LCSB) of the University of Luxembourg.
Parkinson's disease is characterized in particular by death of dopamine-producing neurons in the Substantia nigra of the midbrain.
It is already possible to grow these dopaminergic neurons in cell cultures.
"But most such cell cultures are two-dimensional, with the cells growing along the base of a petri dish, for example," Fleming said.
"Instead, we have the neurons grow in a gel that yields a far better model of their natural, three-dimensional environment."
The scientists are confident this system could greatly facilitate the continuing search for therapeutic agents in future as it models the natural conditions in the brain more realistically than other systems available so far.
It is also significantly cheaper to employ in the laboratory, the researchers said.
As a next step, Fleming's team and their international collaborators want to study cells from patients and to test potential active pharmaceutical ingredients.
Promising substances will then be tested in mice, the researchers said.
The results were recently published in the journal Lab on a Chip