Modifying stem cells to treat Parkinson’s

Efficient brain repair using cell replacement therapy for Parkinson's disease

Dr. Tiago Cardoso
Laval University
Basic Research Fellowship
Funded by Pedaling for Parkinson’s in Prince Edward County
$80,000 over 2 years

Stem cells, with their ability to regenerate and take on different functions, have long been viewed as a potential source for treating Parkinson’s disease.

Unanswered questions remain, however, about how best to deliver stem cells to the areas of the brain Parkinson’s damages, and how to make sure the new cells survive and thrive once they are transplanted.

Tiago Cardoso, a post-doctoral fellow at Laval University, is among the researchers who believes stem cells could be a vital source of new brain cells to replace the dopamine-generating cells that die as Parkinson’s disease progresses.

Working in petri dishes, he’s using cultured stem cells derived from the skin of donors to see if he can transform them into these dopamine-producing neurons.

He will then transplant the stem cells into mouse models to see if they can reduce or eliminate the motor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.

“We hope that we get a stem cell product that is safe and good – that works – that can in the future be used for actual transplantation in order to treat people with Parkinson’s.”

But before Cardoso gets to the transplantation stage, he’s using genetic engineering techniques to improve the stem cells.

“We would modify them, first to make them more prone to survive the transplantation procedure, and second to help them connect better to the damaged areas, to rewire the damaged circuits or pathways in the brain,” Cardoso says.

If Cardoso’s modifications work, and his altered stem cells can replace damaged dopamine neurons in mice, that would suggest further clinical trials.

Clinical trials are already under way in other jurisdictions involving stem cells that have not been modified the same way Cardoso plans to change them. His work could build on this other research.

“We hope that we get a stem cell product that is safe and good – that works – that can in the future be used for actual transplantation in order to treat people with Parkinson’s,” Cardoso says. “We hope to show this is a valid strategy.”

Even as a youth growing up in Portugal, Cardoso enjoyed learning about the natural sciences and chemistry. But his fascination with the biological processes that underlie our complex behaviour drew him to study neuroscience.

The brain is “like the universe of the human body, in terms of how much there is left to be known and how complex it is,” he says.

How your support made this research project possible

Parkinson Canada plays a unique role in the Canadian research landscape because it bridges research and caring for people with the disease, Cardoso says.
“Being associated with a foundation that does such a great job at caring for people with Parkinson’s and with research is great,” he says.

His project complements Parkinson Canada’s philosophy because it marries fundamental research with a promising application, he believes.

Neurodegenerative diseases take a terrible toll on people’s lives and on the healthcare system, he points out.

“It’s important that we help fund and find new therapies, if not to cure Parkinson’s disease, to provide therapies that provide a better life for those people and less stress to their families.,” he says.

“If we want new therapies and new benefits, it’s important to fund the agencies that we think are doing a good job and helping good projects.”

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