Professor Kevin Shakesheff, University of Nottingham
Dr Sharona Even-Ram, Hadassah - Hebrew University Medical Centre
Professor Shakesheff and Dr Even-Ram’s project aimed to improve the quality of nerve cells that are being used to develop regenerative therapies for Parkinson's disease. Over the past few years, researchers have been investigating a novel regenerative medicine approach to treating Parkinson's disease patients. Human embryonic stem cells grown in a dish are directed to form a type of neuron (nerve cell) which, when transplanted into the brain of Parkinson's disease patients, can replace damaged neurons. However, producing the right neurons in a dish ready for transplantation is a lengthy process and gives rise to a mix of different types of cells. There is a risk that those cells that have not fully specialised into neurons may form tumours at the transplanted site. In this project, the Shakesheff and Even-Ram groups developed a reliable selection method that could eliminate tumour-forming cells amongst the neurons derived from embryonic stem cells. This method may become an important tool in generating neurons as treatment for Parkinson's disease and other neurodegenerative conditions. The groups also looked at how they could improve the survival of transplanted neurons using specialised biodegradable scaffolds. Using the expertise of Professor Shakesheff's group in biomaterial platforms, the groups developed injectable scaffolding microparticles that the neurons were grown on and transplanted these into rats. This process generated information that can be used to improve conditions for growing neurons and delivering them into animals.
This collaborative work fostered a deeper appreciation of the complementary skills and expertise of the institutes involved and provided access to many other research groups for future collaborations and student exchanges. Since the grant began, the UK team has been chosen as the UK Regenerative Medicine Platform Hub for Acellular Technologies, enabling it to develop further the injectable systems for cell delivery.