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Manipulating DNA could help treat Parkinson's & arthritis

By Tim Sandle     Jul 22, 2017 in Science
New research from Northwestern University could help patients requiring stem cell therapies for spinal cord injuries, stroke, Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, and arthritic joints.
In the human body cells are continually being signaled with various types of instructions coming from proteins present in the matrices that surround them. These instructions can be cues for cells to express specific genes, in order that the cells can proliferate or differentiate into other types of cells leading to growth or regeneration of tissues. The signaling machinery has the capacity to make signals stop and re-start as needed, to orchestrate what is a very complex processes. When these processes go wrong, a range of diseases can develop.
Many scientists think that if artificial materials with this type of dynamic capacity for regenerative therapies could be developed then many diseases could be overcome. The new research from Northwestern University describes the development of a synthetic material capable of reversing this type of dynamic signaling. This could lead to biological materials that can manage stem cells for a range of regenerative therapies. One possibility is with using the synthetic material to signal neural stem cells to proliferate and to trigger differentiation into neurons and then return the stem cells back to a proliferative state as required.
READ MORE: Essential Science: Treating Parkinson’s with antibiotic dose
The focus is with spinal cord neural stem cells, which begin as "neurospheres," can be programmed to differentiate using an artificial signal. This is the basis, the researchers think, to understanding developmental and regenerative cues. The most significant application of the new technology is to manipulate cells to, perhaps, cure a patient with Parkinson's disease (and potentially other diseases, such as arthritis). With this, the patient's own skin cells could be converted to stem cells. For this to work, materials are chemically decorated with different strands of DNA, each of which is synthetically designed to display a different signal to cells. Soluble molecules containing complementary DNA strands are then use as activators.
Digital technology is used in the form of a green light, which activates a DNA-peptide conjugat to produce more stem cells. The aim is to give the biological material a 'dynamic intelligence' to form a new DNA double helix. Commenting on the research, lead scientist Dr. Samuel I. Stupp said: "People would love to have cell therapies that utilize stem cells derived from their own bodies to regenerate tissue...this will eventually be possible, but one needs procedures that are effective at expanding and differentiating cells in order to do so. Our technology does that."
The research to date has been confined to cells in the laboratory. The longer-term aim is to trial out the technology on living organisms. The research is published in the journal Nature Communications, under the title "Instructing cells with programmable peptide DNA hybrids."
For readers interested in the application of wearable technologies to track Parkinson's disease, see the Digital Journal article "New technologies to help patients with Parkinson's disease."
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