Using Stem Cells to Understand Parkinson’s Disease
Parkinson’s disease (PD) affects more than 100,000 Canadians, and the number is growing as the population ages.
Over the past two decades, the discovery of more than 50 genes that cause or confer the risk of developing PD has given scientists tremendous insight into the disease’s neurobiology. Although these genes account for only a minority of all PD cases, it is believed that better understanding them will help us to unravel and find treatments for even the more common forms of the disease.
This concept has guided Dr. Fon’s research throughout his career. As Canada Research Chair in Parkinson’s Disease, he is focused on studying the molecular and cellular processes that underlie PD.
A key challenge is that we still don’t understand how many of these genes function or work together in cellular pathways. But recent advances in stem cell biology have made it possible to generate neurons from a small sample of blood from patients.
Fon and his research team are now harnessing these new approaches to study and manipulate PD genes and pathways directly in neurons that have been differentiated from induced pluripotent stem cells (master cells that are self-replicating) from patients with PD.
Ultimately, this research will deepen our understanding of PD mechanisms and accelerate the discovery of new therapies to treat this devastating disease.