Improving cell quality for Parkinson’s research

10 December 2020

Scientists from the Centre for Regenerative Medicine have identified optimal freezing conditions for key brain cells which could help treat Parkinson's disease. 

Parkinson’s disease is a degenerative brain disorder in which a specific type of brain cell dies off over time. These specific nerve cells are called dopaminergic neurons, as they produce a chemical molecule called dopamine, which is used for the communication between cells.

To develop a reliable cell therapy for Parkinson’s disease, Dr Tilo Kunath and his research team want to be able to grow and store a reliable source of midbrain dopaminergic (mDA) neural progenitor cells, which can go on to produce dopaminergic neurons. This process is called differentiation.

To store the cells in a laboratory and keep them in good condition, they must be frozen, but that freezing, or cryopreservation, process can damage the cells.

The team conducted the first systematic comparison of solutions the cells are frozen in and freezing conditions for human embryonic stem cell derived dopaminergic neural precursor cells.

Cryopreservation is an important part of this process as it creates a bank of cryopreserved mDA neural progenitor cells, poised for differentiation into dopaminergic neurons. These can provide a scalable source of transplantable human neurons, which can be used for further research and the development of treatments.

Scientists compared six different cryopreservation conditions and identified a number of key factors:

  • Firstly, freezing and thawing of cells in a partially differentiated state did not alter their ability to produce dopaminergic neurons.
  • Secondly, the need to check cell viability 24 hours after thawing, as the results on freshly thawed cells are unreliable.
  • Finally, that rapid thawing in a water-bath is not necessarily best for cell viability and controlled-rate thawing at 4°C could improve cell recovery.

This research could help facilitate the development of new cell replacement therapies for the treatment of Parkinson's disease. 

This study was published in the journal Frontiers in Cell and Developmental Biology and supported by funding from Medical Research Council and a grant from the Cure Parkinson's Trust.


Frontiers in Cell and Developmental Biology