New research offers potential to advance personalized treatment of neurological disease

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

New research led by Dr. Matthew Hebb of Western University and the Lawson Health Research Institute, has demonstrated for the first time, how small brain biopsies may be used to grow large numbers of cells that could possibly be transplanted back into the patient's own brain. This could prove beneficial in treating various neurological disorders such as Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease and Multiple Sclerosis, as well as injuries of the nervous system such stroke or traumatic brain and spinal cord injuries. The research is the cover story for the October issue of The FASEB Journal.

The study enrolled patients with Parkinson's disease who were scheduled to have deep brain stimulation (DBS) surgery. DBS is a commonly used procedure that involves placing electrodes into the brain, reducing certain symptoms but not the progression of the disease. Before the electrodes were implanted, small biopsies were removed near the surface of the brain and immediately transported to the laboratory while the surgery carried on in standard fashion. These brain cells were multiplied in culture to generate millions of patient-specific cells that were then subject to genetic analysis. Excess cells could be safely frozen for prolonged periods for later use. There was not a single study-related complication in the patient group.

Dr. Hebb says when grown in culture these cells are complex in their make-up but exhibit regeneration, and characteristics of a fundamental class of brain cells called glia. In addition, they express a broad array of natural and potent protective agents called neurotrophic factors, with the ability to preserve and protect brain cells from injury, toxins and diseases.

"With further advances, it's possible that these cells could be transformed in the laboratory to yield specific cell types needed for a particular disease. For example, dopamine neurons in Parkinson's disease or oligodendrocytes in Multiple Sclerosis," says Dr. Hebb, an assistant professor in the Departments of Clinical Neurological Sciences, Oncology and Otolaryngology at Western's Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry. "The development of such personalized approaches to neurological disease would not be encumbered by many of the barriers that limit existing cell transplantation methods, such as immune rejection, tissue availability and ethical impasses."

It may also prove possible to have the cells express specific therapeutic agents such as dopamine or neurotrophic factors that are released directly into the brain when the cells are re-implanted. This drug delivery strategy could play a vital role in exposing appropriate brain regions to continuous and sufficient drug levels, while limiting exposure and possible side effects to the rest of the body.

The other authors on the paper include Drs. Hu Xu, Louiza Belkacemi, Mandar Jog and Andrew Parrent. This research was funded by The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research. Click here for the abstract.

"It is our hope that the results of this study provide a footing for further advancement of personalized cell-based treatments for currently incurable and devastating neurological disorders," adds Dr. Hebb.