A new study detailed in Nature, involving synthetically replicating certain cell activity has been hailed as a major breakthrough in developing therapies for many neurological disease – Parkinson’s chiefly among them.
So, a little medical context:
Our cells are constantly being signaled several types of “instructions” by other molecules – whether it be as simple as signals to indicate that we are hungry and one to eat that last doughnut in the office kitchen, or more complex mechanisms like telling certain genes to proliferate into different types of cells for regenerating tissues.
The first example is more delicious, but the second example is way more important!
One important, super-sciency detail about the human body is the innate capacity to make these cellular signals stop and start. The body just knows when it’s time to begin one of those complex, cellular mechanisms. And it’s this detail where this big breakthrough relates.
The study boasts the development of the first synthetic (manufactured artificially vs naturally occurring) material that has the capability to trigger this signaling – the stopping and starting of instructions for the cells.
Therefore, this new technology could not only lead to materials that manage stem cells for regenerative therapies, but will also allow scientists to explore and discover new ways to control the cells and their functions. Some of those stem therapies are for diseases like Parkinson’s, spinal cord injuries, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, and any other condition requiring tissue regeneration.
By using the synthetic material to signal neural stem cells to proliferate, scientists can trigger their differentiation into neurons and then return the stem cells back to normal, and repeat.
The potential use of this technology to manipulate cells could help cure Parkinson’s disease by converting the patient’s own skin cells to stem cells in vitro – and then drive their differentiation into dopamine-producing neurons before transplantation back to the patient.
In essence, this new synthetic material can slap a steering wheel of sorts onto cells, allowing scientists to drive and discover certain cellular activity!