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Skin cells hold key to cause of Parkinson's

Skin from people with Parkinson's is to be used to grow the brain cells that are believed to cause the disease.

The skin cells will be genetically reset to "zero" before being launched on a new development path.

Scientists hope to use them to grow neurons that produce the brain-signalling chemical dopamine.

Parkinson's disease is said to be triggered when dopamine neurons die off, upsetting the control of muscle movements.

The disease is characterised by tremors, stiffness and lack of balance. Ther e is no cure.

A team led by Richard Wade-Martins, head of the Oxford Parkinson's Disease Centre, plans to recruit more than 1,000 patients with early symptoms.

Small samples of skin tissue will be genetically engineered to turn the clock back so they become induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells).

The cells will have the same properties as stem cells found in early stage embryos, including the ability to develop into virtually any kind of body tissue.


By exposing the cells to the right cocktail of chemicals, the scientists hope to make them differentiate into dopamine neurons.

Dr Wade-Martins said: "Parkinson's disease is the second most common neurodegenerative disease and is set to become increasingly common as we live longer.

"Once we have neurons from patients we can compare the functioning of cells taken from patients with the disease and those without to better understand why dopamine neurons die in patients with Parkinson's."

Details of the five-year research programme were presented today at a science conference dealing with such diseases in Nottingham.