Huntington’s disease neurons created from stem cells

Posted: June 29, 2012 at 7:12 am

An international consortium of Huntington's disease experts, including several from the Sue & Bill Gross Stem Cell Research Center at UC Irvine and the UCSF Gladstone Institutes, has generated a human model of the deadly inherited disorder directly from the skin cells of affected patients.

The re-created neurons, which live in a petri dish, will help researchers better understand what disables and kills brain cells in people with HD and let them gauge the effects of potential drug therapies on cells that are otherwise locked deep in the brain.

UCI scientists were part of a consortium that in 1993 identified the autosomal dominant gene mutation responsible for HD, but there is still no cure, and no treatments are available to even slow its onset or progression. The research, published online today in the journal Cell Stem Cell, is the work of the Huntington's Disease iPSC Consortium. Participants examined several other cell lines and control cell lines to ensure that their results were consistent and reproducible in different labs.

"Our discovery will enable us for the first time to test therapies on human Huntington's disease neurons," said Leslie Thompson, UCI professor of psychiatry & human behavior and neurobiology & behavior, one of the world's leading HD experts and a senior author of the study. "This has been a remarkable time in HD research, with the advent of stem cell technologies that have allowed these scientific advancements. Also, having a team of scientists working together as a consortium has benefited the research tremendously and accelerated its pace."

Huntington's is such a rare disease, although it is the most common inherited neurodegenerative disorder. It afflicts approximately 30,000 people in the United States-with another 75,000 people carrying the gene that will eventually lead to it.

"An advantage of this human model is that we now have the ability to identify changes in brain cells over time-during the degeneration process and at specific stages of brain-cell development," said Gladstone Senior Investigator Dr. Steve Finkbeiner. "We hope this model will help us more readily uncover relevant factors that contribute to Huntington's disease and especially to find successful therapeutic approaches."

UC Irvine press release

Gladstone Institutes press release

Huntington’s disease neurons created from stem cells

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