Creating human neurons within pig basal ganglia
Undergraduate Scholar Grant Recipient: Joseph P. Voth
Faculty Sponsor: Walter Low, PhD
Grant Period: 2015-2016
Site: University of Minnesota
Degenerative disorders cause specific types of cells in the human body to either die or stop functioning, leading to a wide range of symptoms in the patient. Although there are ways to treat the symptoms and to slow the progression of these diseases, it is difficult to treat the root causes of the ailment and restore the body with healthy cells.
Stem cell research has opened up opportunities for scientists to create or transform one type of cell into another specific type of cell that is needed for research and therapy purposes. Nevertheless, there is still work to be done in developing cells that can effectively survive a human transplant.
This research is focusing on knocking out dopamine-secreting neurons in pigs and adding stem cells to grow human neurons that secrete dopamine. These neurons are located in the basal ganglia, so the project is also focused on comparing human and pig basal ganglia anatomy to determine the placement of neurons within each of the species. The research project will then focus on identifying and removing these neurons so they can be transplanted into humans who have Parkinson's disease, a disorder where the patient losses dopamine-secreting neurons.
Parkinson's disease is the second most common neurodegenerative disorder, with 7-10 million individuals worldwide who are living with the ailment, and an estimated 60,000 new cases are diagnosed each year in the United States. As baby boomers get older, these types of disorders are expected to be increasingly common in the coming years.
It is important to find effective ways to treat and manage the effects of neurodegenerative disorders like Parkinson's disease so people can live long and fulfilling lives following their diagnoses. This research explores a promising new technique that could create healthy human neurons to transplant and replace neurons that have died or degenerated, significantly improving quality of life.
Joseph Voth is an undergraduate student who has been researching in the neuroscience lab of Dr. Walter Low at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. His interest is in stem cell research, and he plans to enroll in a MD/PhD program in neuroscience after he completes his undergraduate degree.