Cedars-Sinai's Regenerative Medicine Institute has pioneered research on how motor-neuron cell-death occurs in patients with spinal muscular atrophy, offering an important clue in identifying potential medicines to treat this leading genetic cause of death in infants and toddlers.
The study, published in the June 19 online issue of PLoS ONE, extends the institute's work to employ pluripotent stem cells to find a pharmaceutical treatment for spinal muscular atrophy or SMA, a genetic neuromuscular disease characterized by muscle atrophy and weakness.
"With this new understanding of how motor neurons die in spinal muscular atrophy patients, we are an important step closer to identifying drugs that may reverse or prevent that process," said Clive Svendsen, PhD, director of the Cedars-Sinai Regenerative Medicine Institute.
Svendsen and his team have investigated this disease for some time now. In 2009, Nature published a study by Svendsen and his colleagues detailing how skin cells taken from a patient with the disorder were used to generate neurons of the same genetic makeup and characteristics of those affected in the disorder; this created a "disease-in-a-dish" that could serve as a model for discovering new drugs.
As the disease is unique to humans, previous methods to employ this approach had been unreliable in predicting how it occurs in humans. In the research published in PLoS ONE, to the team reproduced this model with skin cells from multiple patients, taking them back in time to a pluripotent stem cell state (iPS cells), and then driving them forward to study the diseased patient-specific motor neurons.