✍️ Author: Dr Eleni Christoforidou
🕒 Approximate reading time: 4 minutes
Since their discovery in 2006, induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) have revolutionised the field of regenerative medicine and disease modelling. In this blog post, we explore how iPSCs are being utilised in the research of neurodegenerative diseases.
iPSCs are a type of stem cell that can be generated directly from adult cells. Through the introduction of specific genes, scientists can reprogramme somatic cells, like skin or blood cells, into iPSCs. These cells maintain the defining properties of stem cells: the ability to self-renew and to differentiate into various cell types, including neurons.
Neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, involve the progressive loss of neurons and are often characterised by the accumulation of abnormal proteins. They are notoriously difficult to study, as obtaining live neurons from patients for research purposes is not feasible. This is where iPSCs come into play.
Scientists can reprogramme cells from a patient with a neurodegenerative disease into iPSCs. These cells can then be differentiated into neurons, creating a personalised in vitro model of the patient's nervous system. This provides an unprecedented opportunity to study the pathophysiology of these diseases and test potential treatments.
Using iPSCs, scientists have been able to model various neurodegenerative diseases and gain significant insights into their molecular mechanisms. For example, iPSC-derived neurons from patients with Alzheimer's have been shown to produce amyloid-beta, a protein that forms the hallmark plaques seen in the brains of these patients.
However, as with any rapidly evolving field, challenges exist. For instance, iPSC-derived neurons are typically in a developmental state, which might not perfectly mirror the aged neurons typically affected in neurodegenerative diseases. In addition, iPSC technology requires significant expertise and resources, limiting its accessibility.
Despite these challenges, the use of iPSCs in neurodegenerative disease research remains an exciting and rapidly evolving field. As technology advances, iPSCs will continue to provide valuable insights into these diseases and accelerate the development of effective treatments.