19 Jun 2011

Researchers plan brain bank to analyse Parkinson's

8:15 am on 19 June 2011

Researchers in Britain trying to find a cure for Parkinson's are creating a bank of artificially grown brain cells from patients with the disease.

The team is using a new stem cell technique that enables them to turn skin from the patient into a small piece of brain, the BBC reports. Then they can analyse nerve cells as they start to deteriorate.

The first batch of nerve cells have been grown from a 56-year-old Oxfordshire man, Derek Underwood, who had to take early retirement because of the progression of the disease.

Mr Underwood is the first of 50 patients whose skin cells will be grown into brain cells as part of a five-year study.

According to Dr Richard Wade Martins of Oxford University, who is leading the study, the aim is to build up a "brain bank" that will enable researchers to study how the disease develops in unprecedented detail.

"The brain is an inaccessible organ and you can't get bits of people's brain to study very easily," he says.

"But what we have here is a disease in a dish, that are just like Derek's brain cells but are accessible and can be produced in unlimited quantities."